Jason Williams scores a hat-trick as Blues' youth team get off to a winning start against Stevenage
Southend United Under-18s made a winning start to their Football League Youth Alliance South East Conference season with a 3-2 victory over Stevenage, thanks principally to Jason Williams’ hat-trick.
The front-man, who scored three times in five pre-season appearances, continued his excellent form by putting Blues ahead in the first half before restoring the lead just over a minute into the second period. His third, a superb left-footed effort from 25 yards, completed a personal treble and ensured that the visitors were too far adrift to worry Southend in the closing stages.
“Stevenage played well. They were a physical side, but they pushed us hard and put us under a lot of pressure today,” analysed Blues’ Head of Youth Ricky Duncan after the game. “I thought we coped well, though, and picked up a good win. The lads were a bit nervous because they wanted to win that first game, but they did well.”
Southend had to withstand a lot of pressure inside the opening stages as the visitors penned them back in their own half. A 20-yard strike from just outside the penalty area was deflected wide within the opening sixty seconds and, shortly afterwards, Daniel Matsuzaka had to do brilliantly to clear a close-range effort off the goal-line at the near post.
The game was still less than three minutes old when Ted Smith was forced into a wonderful fingertip save to push another 20-yard attempt around the left-hand upright and the young Shrimpers finally managed to emerge from their own half a little later. “We tried something different from the kick-off, something we haven’t tried at all in training, and it put us immediately on the back foot, gifting them early chances. I don’t think we’ll be doing that again!” said Duncan.
Southend’s first opportunities arrived in the ninth minute. Brandon Scott and Jordan Williams combined on the right to set up the latter’s namesake, Jason, and he glanced a header narrowly wide before Nico Cotton retrieved the ball and helped Kane Farrell swing another cross in for the forward, who this time nodded narrowly over.
Williams showed his appetite for goals again in the 16th minute when he raced ahead of Charlie Barlow to latch onto Scott’s cut-back and fire over before then side-footing Jordan Williams’ cross inches past the right-hand post in his team’s next attack.
Southend finally took the lead that their persistence deserved in the 18th minute. Harry Norman, playing in an advanced midfield position with Jack Bridge and Freddie Gard still around a week away from full fitness, drilled the ball goalwards from 25 yards and, when the Stevenage goalkeeper tipped it onto the inside of the left-hand upright, Jason Williams was in place to send the rebound over the goal-line from close range.
Boro went close to an immediate leveller in the 24th minute when a forward cut inside from the left wing to send a curling shot against the outside of the right-hand post before Smith gathered a well-struck follow-up, and Ross Johnson - called into the side after Josh Banton made the trip to Hartlepool with the first-team squad - later made a scrambling stop on the line after another shot was caressed beyond the reach of Smith.
In between, Southend had a loud appeal for handball turned down when Barlow’s effort was charged down by a defender and, when Daniel King released striker Williams for a deflected effort wide and Scott then fired across the face of goal with team-mates lined up to convert a cross, they appeared to be ending the half strongly.
However, the hosts were caught out three minutes before the break when Stevenage equalised. A mesmerising run down the inside-right channel culminated in a forward flummoxing the Blues back-line to finish well. “We just got caught out; Ross and Dan haven’t played together very much and that probably contributed and they scored a good goal,” reflected Duncan.
Parity did not last long. Within two minutes of kick-off in the second half, Southend were back in front courtesy of Jason Williams again. Cotton made good progress down the left-hand side but couldn’t win a throw, although good pressure on the Stevenage defence led to a stray pass and the confident Williams fired home clinically.
Kane Farrell made a fine last-ditch tackle on the edge of the six-yard box in the aftermath of that strike, and Stevenage then hit the woodwork for a second time when a looping back-post header from a corner. That increased anxiety at the back for the Shrimpers but, in general, Duncan was pleased with his charges after the interval.
“We wanted the lads to keep the ball, to pressurise the opposition, and to make the most of their chances, and we came out after the break and did that by scoring two good goals. Jason’s third strike was outstanding, and I don’t think anyone in the dressing room will be hearing the end of it after he scored a hat-trick,” quipped the coach.
Williams had to wait a little while before grabbing his final goal of the morning, although he was superbly denied by the goalkeeper just after the hour mark when the creative Barlow sought out the striker in space 15 yards from goal. Two minutes later, the second-year scholar went even closer, powering a header from Scott’s chipped cross against the crossbar.
However, Southend finally moved two goals clear in the 65th minute. There didn’t appear to be too much danger when Jason Williams picked up possession just inside the Stevenage half, but he outpaced one opponent before devastatingly cutting inside another and smashing a left-footed strike from distance into the top left-hand corner of the net.
If Blues’ Youths felt they could relax a little, they were shaken ten minutes from the end when Stevenage reduced the arrears with a viciously inswinging corner that hooped over Smith and inside the left-hand upright to make it 3-2.
That the away side were not able to trouble the Southend defence further was largely down to their preoccupation with Williams, who nodded just over from substitute Kojo Apenteng’s right-wing centre before setting up Barlow in the 84th minute. He was thwarted by a splendid flying save, and it was only another minute later that Williams rolled the ball into Scott’s path, only for the winger to blast over.
Even in stoppage time Williams caused problems for Stevenage, drawing yet another brilliant save from the ‘keeper after connecting with Emmanuel Adeyeye’s cut-back with Macauley Keaton seeing the follow-up blocked. It was a breathless conclusion to a thrilling win, and Southend will be hoping for more of the same from their next fixture, away to Peterborough United next Saturday.
Southend United U18s: Ted Smith, Jordan Williams (Kojo Apenteng, 77), Kane Farrell, Daniel King, Ross Johnson, Daniel Matsuzaka, Brandon Scott (Macauley Keaton, 90+1), Charlie Barlow, Jason Williams, Harry Norman, Nico Cotton (Emmanuel Adeyeye, 85).Substitutes not used: Michael Ademuliyi, Daniel Snook.
Goals: Jason Williams (18, 47, 65).