Watford Under-18's 1-1 Blues' Under-18's
Southend United’s Under-18 side drew 1-1 with Watford at the end of a fascinating Football League Youth Alliance South East Conference fixture in London Colney, leaving Head of Youth Ricky Duncan happy with his squad.
“We’ve played Watford three times now, and we’ve matched them in terms of technique every time we’ve played against them,” he explained. “They are a club who have chosen to drop down from Category One to Category Three Academy status, their first-team may well be playing in the Premier League next season whilst we are in League Two, but we’ve recorded two hard-fought draws and one unfortunate defeat.”
Duncan continued his policy of mixing up the squad as 15-year-old schoolboy Jordan Williams was handed a debut at right-back. Charlie Barlow was picked to play in the hole behind Seedy Njie, whilst Kane Farrell was the beneficiary of Mitchell Pinnock’s first-team call-up as he slotted in on the left-hand side of midfield. Jack Edwards returned in the centre after missing the previous week’s action through injury.
Despite this being the third time the sides had met, the opening quarter-of-an-hour was relatively uneventful. Watford operated with a fluid 4-3-3 system but both teams looked confident in possession and it wasn’t until the 16th minute that Marlon Agyakwa delivered the game’s first strike on goal, forcing Daniel Wilks into a smart save from Farrell’s square pass.
Sixty seconds later Wilks’ opposite number, Ted Smith, made his first stop, keeping out a striker’s effort with his legs after Luke O’Nien had cut the ball back in the Under-16 forward’s path. Smith was not required the next time the front man received the ball in a dangerous position midway through the first half as a half-volley was chipped wide.
Fope Coker swept a free-kick over from the edge of the penalty area after Njie had been brought down, but the hosts continued to probe and, after one effort had been ruled out for offside, Smith did well in the 37th minute to beat away Alex Jakubiak’s goalbound strike from a precise pass.
When Southend scored, it was no surprise that the impressive Barlow was involved. He worked hard on the left-hand side to find Coker just inside the penalty area, and the midfielder centred for Agyakwa some 15 yards from goal. The second-year, who found himself centrally-based as a result of his willingness to get into the box, drilled in a low shot on the turn which Wilks was unable to keep out, instead palming the ball into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
Smith preserved the lead when he held onto Bobson Bawling’s rising strike in the closing stages of the first half, but it was during the second period that the young custodian came into his own. “I thought we were very good for 45 minutes and we moved and passed the ball well. We didn’t look in any trouble, but our recent programme of matches caught up with us after the break and Ted had to make at least three terrific saves,” stated Duncan.
The first came within three minutes of the restart as Jakubiak made a penetrating run down the left flank and cut inside to devastating effect, only to find Smith perfectly-positioned to turn his shot away at the near post. In the 50th minute, it was full-back Williams who thwarted the forward, making an outstandingly brave challenge as he covered across in the centre-back position.
“That was Jordan’s first appearance for us, and I thought he did very well. We always like to introduce the schoolboys to the side at this time of the season, and I thought he was very accomplished. The challenge he made just inside the area to deny their striker was a goal-saving tackle,” Duncan declared.
Jakubiak then glanced a Josh Doherty centre across the face of goal before Smith made another excellent save with his legs on the hour to block out a forward’s attempt once he had turned inside Robert Hyams. There was a rare moment of pressure for the Shrimpers when Farrell’s inswinging corner was nodded inches over his own crossbar by a defender and then substitute Jack Bridge brought a routine stop out of Wilks, but before long Smith was in the thick of the action again.
Showing excellent anticipation, he advanced off his line to shut out a driven Jakubiak finish in the 66th minute before making a stunning double-stop to frustrate Doherty and O’Nien. Unfortunately, Southend could not soak up any more pressure and, when Hyams tripped a forward cutting across him just inside the left-hand apex of the penalty area, it gave Jack Westlake the opportunity to send Smith the wrong way from the penalty spot.
Perversely, from that moment onwards, it was Blues who looked the more likely to score, and they came agonisingly close to doing so in the 74th minute. When Njie was brought down on the right touchline, Coker laid an inventive free-kick into the path of Barlow, who sent a spinning, looping shot against the inside of the left-hand upright, only for the ball to inexplicably bounce back out into play.
Dan King and Brandon Scott were introduced to give the side fresh impetus, and Southend very nearly stole a winner three minutes from time when Aaron Tatham met Coker’s cross from a short Agyakwa corner, but he powered his header over the crossbar from close-range. Typically, Smith had the last word, expertly standing tall to beat away Jakubiak’s last-minute strike, and the points were shared at the end of a mesmerising tussle.
Duncan now has three days to get his troops ready for their next assignment, at home to Peterborough United on Saturday. Kick-off at Boots & Laces is at 11.00am. “We’ve got some weary legs in the camp, but we’ll keep plugging away in these last few matches and see what we can do,” he concluded.
Southend United: Ted Smith, Jordan Williams (Daniel King, 80), Robert Hyams, Fope Coker, Aaron Tatham, Daniel Matsuzaka, Marlon Agyakwa, Jack Edwards (Jack Bridge, 46), Seedy Njie, Charlie Barlow, Kane Farrell (Brandon Scott, 80). Substitutes not used: Macauley Keaton, Jason Williams.
Goal: Agyakwa (42).