Under-18's knocked out of Youth Alliance Cup by Portsmouth
Southend United U18s were knocked out of the Football League Youth Alliance Cup at the second round stage by Portsmouth after the visitors edged a hard-fought battle, 2-1, at Boots & Laces.
Nico Cotton’s third goal of the season had cancelled out Conor Chaplin’s early opener for Pompey, but a Fahad Rwakarambwe finish twelve minutes from time ended Southend’s hopes of securing a place in the southern section semi-finals of the competition. The result followed defeat to Oxford United in The FA Youth Cup in Blues’ Youths last outing, and coach Dave Huzzey was left frustrated by the reversal: “It’s disappointing,” he declared.
“The FA Youth Cup was disappointing and, for me, today was just as disappointing. It was a different kind of game because we were in it for longer periods, and a fair reflection would’ve been a draw but, by the same token, if you can’t finish your chances then you won’t win games.”
“We’ve got to stop saying that we’re unlucky. We’ve said to the boys that we can’t feel sorry for ourselves; we had a 25-minute spell after half-time when I don’t think they got in our half and, if you can’t capitalise on that type of spell, then you’re going to lose matches. Portsmouth went away and scored, and that killed us really,” he added.
Huzzey’s frank assessment came at the conclusion of a game in which Brandon Scott did not start for the first time this season. Kojo Apenteng replaced the attacker in the starting line-up whilst Freddie Gard was given a chance to build on his impressive second-half display in The FA Youth Cup. Ross Johnson replaced Jordan Williams at full-back, but Charlie Barlow and Harry Norman both missed out through illness.
Ted Smith made a comfortable first-minute save from Chaplin, but the remainder of the opening ten minutes passed without incident, despite Portsmouth dominating possession. Indeed, the closest either side came to scoring was Kane Farrell’s inswinging corner which no-one in a blue shirt could meet as it fizzed across the penalty area.
However, Southend fell behind in the 13th minute. Chaplin combined well with his strike partner to split open the Shrimpers defence and, despite Smith making an excellent low save to keep out the initial effort, Chaplin was in exactly the right spot to guide the rebound into the unguarded net.
Smith made a good stop stretching up to his left-hand side a couple of minutes later to stop Pompey from extending their advantage, and that allowed his team to gather their composure. Gard weighed up his options 25 yards out in the 18th minute to fire at the toecaps of the Portsmouth goalkeeper and, with powerful forward Jason Williams a focal point of Southend’s attacks, the hosts began to occupy the opposition defence.
The hard work paid off in the 28th minute as Blues equalised. Johnson made good progress down the right wing to fire in a shot that was charged down, and Williams then competed strongly for a header. The ball ran loose just inside the penalty area and Cotton reacted quickest to fire it home.
Williams immediately attempted to put Southend in front on the half-hour mark, but his fierce strike was charged down by Chad Field and a header ten minutes later from a swirling Farrell cross was directed straight at the ‘keeper. The visiting custodian followed that up with an impressive save from Williams’ curling effort and, although he pushed the ball into the path of Gard, it bounced awkwardly and the midfielder couldn’t convert at the back post.
Blues looked to maintain their momentum in the early stages of the second period, and Jack Bridge’s pass released Williams seven minutes after the interval. The second-year scholar was well-marshalled by the defence and his shot was deflected wide before he had to withdraw from the action with an injury.
It was a blow to Southend’s prospects, but Huzzey believes the team should have been able to adapt to the change in style that was necessary when Williams hobbled off: “We had to change the way we played a little bit because we had been going a bit direct. Jason was looking after it and setting things off, and then we were getting Nico and Kojo to run off of him. When he came off, Nico didn’t have the strength to hold the centre-half off so we had to play a different way, and maybe it took us too long to cope with it. But we’ve got enough good players in the squad that we should’ve worked it out,” he said.
Cotton went up front with Scott maintaining his ever-present record by coming off the bench, and Macauley Keating made his return from injury shortly afterwards by replacing Daniel King in midfield. Blues continued to enjoy the majority of the play, but they were unable to get any potent shots in on goal, and Smith was called into action in the 71st minute to turn a flicked finish around the right-hand post.
Daniel Snook’s arrival with a quarter-of-an-hour to go restored Southend’s aerial presence up front, but the hosts were rocked three minutes later when Pompey took the lead again. A shot was delivered from the edge of the penalty area and Smith could only parry the ball into the path of Rwakarambwe, who slotted home impressively.
Southend then went in search of a late leveller, with Bridge curling over from Scott’s lay-off and Cotton slicing wide of the right-hand post with his right foot after being put clear of the last defender by Bridge. As the seconds ticked away, Scott sent a driven shot inches wide of the left-hand post before even custodian Smith arrived in the penalty area for a couple of late set-pieces. However, Banton headed wide and Johnson - who had been pushed up front - couldn’t pounce on a Smith knock-down as Blues failed to force penalties.
“We could’ve scored two or three goals today, and we should’ve scored two or three,” claimed Huzzey. “In the last couple of weeks, when the opposition has had a good spell, which they are always going to have, they’ve scored, and this week was no exception. It’s disappointing.”
“We’ve got Gillingham next week. We’re doing alright in the League, and we’ll focus all our energy and all our thoughts on that now. We’ll try to do as well as we can and win as many games as we can. We had a spell when we didn’t lose in eight or nine games, and now we’ve lost three or four so we need to make sure we get back into form, starting next weekend,” he concluded.
Southend United: Ted Smith, Ross Johnson, Kane Farrell, Daniel King (Macauley Keating, 64), Josh Banton, Daniel Matsuzaka, Kojo Apenteng (Daniel Snook, 75), Freddie Gard, Jason Williams (Brandon Scott, 53), Jack Bridge, Nico Cotton. Substitutes not used: Emmanuel Adeyeye, Jordan Williams.
Goal: Cotton (28).
Cautioned: Matsuzaka (60, foul tackle).