Southend United under-18's 2-2 Gillingham under-18's
Southend United U18s showed real character to battle back from a two-goal deficit to claim a 2-2 draw with Gillingham at Boots & Laces and end their recent losing sequence.
Playmaker Jack Bridge bagged a second-half brace to help Blues earn a point from the fixture, and it looked as though forward Jason Williams may even have won it with a last-minute header but the assistant referee flagged to indicate that a foul had been committed on the goalkeeper. Youth team coach Dave Huzzey was pleased with the leadership shown by the club’s experienced players during the match, and felt that the performance represented an improvement on recent fixtures.
“The senior players in the squad have really stepped up to the mark, all the way back to Ted [Smith] at the back,” he said. “Losing is a habit, just like winning, and we have been on a losing run. It’s good today that we scored two, and it looked like we might score more as well. We’re creating chances again, which maybe we weren’t in the last couple of games, so there are loads of positives and just a little negative that it was only a draw when we could have won the game with the goal we had disallowed.”
Charlie Barlow recovered from illness to replace Freddie Gard in the only change to the starting line-up that had been narrowly beaten by Portsmouth in the Youth Alliance Cup second round. On a sun-kissed winter’s morning at Boots & Laces, there was a subdued start with neither team able to threaten in the opening 20 minutes.
Gillingham certainly had the better of the possession and, having lost 7-2 at the venue earlier in the season, were probably pleased that their goalkeeper had not been tested. Daniel King scored an outstanding goal on that occasion, and he was the first player to deliver a shot on target with a skidding 25-yard attempt that sent Luke Nalder scrambling across his goal.
Shortly afterwards, the Gills took the lead in the 25th minute. The visitors’ right winger got the better of Kane Farrell to drag the ball back dangerously from the bye-line and, despite the best efforts of King sliding in to try and cut the cross out, a forward got the telling final touch to divert it beyond Smith from close range.
The Southend response was not immediate, but they did bring Nalder into action just after the half-hour mark as King slid the ball through to Nico Cotton. The custodian was off his line smartly to snuff out that attack, and he next thwarted Williams when he fired strongly towards goal.
Smith himself made a useful near-post save, but Williams was working desperately to lift his team-mates and he outpaced and outmuscled a defender before seeing his effort blocked in the 43rd minute. “One thing you’ve got with Jason is that he is totally fearless. With the goal that he had disallowed, he had no right to win that header with the goalkeeper, and I was really impressed with him. He’s just got to tidy up on his quality a little bit and he’ll be a top, top player,” said Huzzey.
“It was a game of two halves. The first half wasn’t good enough again. We’re allowing teams too many chances to score goals and Gillingham scored one in the first half and then another mistake in the second just after half-time allowed them to get a second,” he added. Again the move came down the right-hand side, with attackers queuing up to tap home the driven centre.
At 2-0 down after losing four straight matches in the last month, Blues could have folded, but instead they showed real determination to fight back. Importantly, they netted within three minutes of the second goal as Bridge found the target from 16 yards out. Brandon Scott’s cross from the right was blocked into the path of Ross Johnson and he picked out Bridge, who side-footed sweetly into the top right-hand corner.
“Jack has added loads of goals to his CV this season, which has been brilliant. He’s really effective when he takes on players and in 1v1 situations,” remarked Huzzey. Tempers began to fray as Southend pressed for an equaliser, and both Williams and Nico Cotton were spoken to by the referee, who also had to calm down some of the Gillingham players before a visiting forward fired narrowly wide of the left-hand post.
The decisive moment arrived when Blues reverted to the 3-5-2 formation that had been so effective in the second half of The FA Youth Cup defeat to Oxford United. Daniel Snook was brought on to play up front, and he battled hard to win the ball for Bridge in the 73rd minute, with the midfielder holding off a defender to steer the ball beyond Nalder for the equaliser. It was his seventh goal of the current campaign and one that gave his team hope of victory.
Snook almost provided the winner when he met a Bridge corner, but his header bounced up and over the bar after being powered into the turf. At the other end, Smith made a superb save at his near post to keep out a low strike with three minutes remaining but, in the dying seconds, it seemed as though Southend might have snatched the win.
A long Farrell throw was met by a flicked Snook header and, when the ball was hoisted up to the edge of the six-yard box, Williams jumped with Nalder to bundle it over the goal-line. As the front man wheeled away in celebration, the assistant’s flag was raised and a free-kick awarded, leaving the young Shrimpers frustrated.
“The boys showed terrific resilience today to not lose the game. They believed in themselves that they could win the game. Even at 2-0 down, I knew we weren’t out of the game because we’ve got players in the squad that can change things. The disappointing thing is that we had to change our shape,” claimed Huzzey.
“We went to a 3-5-2 and put Dan Snook in up front with Jason because we were going a bit more direct and we could feed off of that. It worked because it got us back in the game, and I’m a bit disappointed that we didn’t win the game because, by the end, we were better than Gillingham. With the disallowed goal and a couple of other chances that we had, we were good enough to win it.”
“Although the boys won’t admit it, they’re probably ready for a little break over Christmas, but we’re looking forward to coming back in 2014 even more. It’ll be a new start. We’ve got ten games in the New Year and we fancy ourselves in those ten games coming back fresh. We’ve had a few players out injured and they’ll all be back in January and hopefully we’ll be firing on all cylinders,” he concluded.
Southend United U18s: Ted Smith, Ross Johnson, Kane Farrell, Daniel King, Josh Banton, Daniel Matsuzaka, Brandon Scott, Charlie Barlow (Daniel Snook, 70), Jason Williams, Jack Bridge, Nico Cotton. Substitutes not used: Emmaniel Adeyeye, Kojo Apenteng, Jordan Williams.
Goals: Bridge (49, 73).