Youngsters suffer 4-1 loss to Gillingham
Southend United Under-18s suffered a third defeat inside a week after losing 4-1 to Gillingham in a rearranged Football League Youth Alliance fixture at Beechings Cross.
Blues were looking to recover after being knocked out of the Youth Alliance Cup last Wednesday at home to Watford and then suffering a 3-1 reverse against Stevenage at Boots & Laces, but two goals in each half from the hosts rendered Daniel Snook’s first goal for the club a mere consolation.
Head of Youth Ricky Duncan maintained a passive watching brief over the fixture, leaving youth team coach Stuart Bimson in charge of the side. The former Macclesfield Town and Lincoln City defender was in a philosophical mood after the match: “Sometimes you have to pay credit to the opposition and say that they played better than us, and that was certainly the case today,” he remarked.
“They were brighter than us - much brighter - and they passed the ball better. We tried some different things today, because Fope Coker pulled out injured on the morning of the match, so we put Daniel King in as a holding midfielder and Josh Banton went over to right-back with Aaron Tatham returning in the centre of defence.”
The initial signs were reasonable for Southend as Snook powered Mitchell Pinnock’s third-minute set-piece inches over the crossbar, but already at that point the visiting defence had been required to scramble an early effort to safety and, by the 12th minute, only the quick-thinking of a covering Banton averted Alex Arif as he sought to chip Gillingham in front.
The Gills did take the lead midway through the opening period. Charlie Webster was integral in exploiting the space between Blues’ defence and midfield all afternoon, and he centred from the right for Jack Sellens to lash the ball beyond Ted Smith, the forward having arrived at the near post before Tatham. Matters swiftly got worse for Southend as the second-year scholar was forced off through injury just 28 minutes into his first competitive start of 2013.
“We can’t keep letting sides get in front; we’re shooting ourselves in the foot by doing that, and you have to chase the game once you go a goal behind,” lamented Bimson. “Aaron unfortunately was injured just after the goal and that disrupted our plans further.”
King moved to right-back and Banton to centre-half, and the restructured back-line kept Gillingham at bay for a quarter-of-an-hour. During this period, Marlon Agyakwa lifted a 22-yard free-kick into the gloves of home custodian Luke Nalder but, with three minutes remaining before half-time, the Gills extended their lead as skipper Stephen Butcher met a far post corner and nodded back to Sellens. He was thwarted twice by Smith on the goal-line, with the Southend shotstopper also assisted by the post, before the front man finally prodded home.
It could have got even worse before the interval, with Smith required to make a fine save in pushing Webster’s steered finish around the left-hand upright, but the scoreline remained at 2-0 until Snook pulled a goal back two minutes after the restart. He netted for the first time since being moved up front on a permanent basis after swooping on the loose ball when Agyakwa’s hanging cross from the right byeline was dropped by Nalder.
That gave Blues some impetus, although Arif served notice that the task of levelling the match would not be easy by scuffing a shot into Smith’s hands from the edge of the penalty area. Then, just before the hour mark, Gillingham netted for a third time, Haysman turning the ball in with a dexterous flick after Robert Hyams had cleared Sellens’ attempt off the goal-line.
Despite the introduction of Kojo Apenteng for cold victim Jack Edwards at the break, Southend began to look jaded, and even Pinnock couldn’t raise spirits with a trademark audacious free-kick, sending his volley wide after juggling Charlie Barlow’s lay-off 30 yards out.
Arif set up substitute Aaron Millbank at the end of a free-flowing move down the right flank, but he leant back on his 73rd minute effort and sent his shot over. Three minutes later, the same player was denied by Banton’s important block before Gillingham finally made it 4-1, Arif tucking home with ease at the end of another zigzagging passing move.
Snook could have contributed a second goal, diverting the ball wide from Jack Bridge’s near-post corner after Blues enjoyed a succession of flag-kicks, whilst Apenteng’s curling attempt was whipped narrowly wide and Banton’s fiercely-struck shot was charged down. Ultimately, it was not enough, and Southend suffered their third defeat at the hands of Gillingham this season.
“We know we have to bounce back against Dagenham & Redbridge now. We played very well against QPR and Watford last week, but we let our levels drop in the second half against Stevenage, and again in the first half today we weren’t good enough. The lads aren’t used to playing Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday-Tuesday, but we’ll have to work hard for the rest of the week because that’s what’s required to go and get a result on Saturday,” concluded Bimson.
Southend United: Ted Smith, Josh Banton, Robert Hyams, Daniel King, Aaron Tatham (Charlie Barlow, 28), Daniel Matsuzaka, Marlon Agyakwa, Jack Edwards (Kojo Apenteng, 46), Daniel Snook, Jack Bridge, Mitchell Pinnock (Jason Williams, 73). Substitute not used: Kane Farrell.
Goal: Snook (47).