Watford too strong for Blues' youngsters
Southend United Under-18s were knocked out of the Football League Youth Alliance Cup as goals from Chris Dillon and Bosson Bowling bookended a 2-0 triumph for Watford in the Southern Section Quarter-Finals.
Blues’ lack of progress at Boots & Laces was not due to a shortfall in endeavour, and Daniel Snook, Jack Edwards and Mitchell Pinnock all struck the woodwork for the hosts in an exciting encounter. Ted Smith and Daniel Wilks, the two goalkeepers, also made a number of impressive saves to keep goalscoring at a premium.
“I’m disappointed for the lads because they dominated the second half and deserved to get a penalty shoot-out, or maybe even to win it outright,” declared Head of Youth Ricky Duncan after the match. “We went down fighting, and that was pleasing to see.”
Duncan was able to name the same starting line-up as had taken the field against Queens Park Rangers in a friendly on Saturday, which meant a first competitive start for Rob Hyams since early September. Jack Payne, Harry Jeffrey and Aaron Tatham were all missing from the eleven, although centre-half Tatham did emerge as a makeshift forward seven minutes from time.
Blues almost made the perfect start when Snook hit the crossbar in just the third minute. Marlon Agyakwa swung the ball in from the left-hand corner quadrant and tall auxiliary front-man Snook glanced a header against the woodwork, although the hosts would soon be forced onto the back foot.
Gloveman Smith made a smart stop in the fifth minute to keep out Bernard Mensah’s well-struck effort, and sixty seconds later he sprinted off his line to deny Alex Jakubiak before Hyams skirted around to usher the ball out for a corner.
Watford continued to press and, in the tenth minute, Mensah crossed from the left to present Luke O’Nien with the perfect opening six yards from goal. The midfielder elected to attempt to score with a deft flick which drifted wide of the far post, but the Hornets swiftly made amends as Bowling forced his way down the left to shoot at Smith. The Shrimpers shotstopper blocked with his legs, and Bowling nodded the follow-up against the bar, but Chris Dillon made no mistake in sweeping home from close range.
Strangely the visitors failed to capitalise on moving into the ascendency and Southend were afforded a swift chance to level as Pinnock found Agyakwa 20 yards out and his skidding strike skipped up off the turf to test Wilks. The match calmed down and became more even, allowing Fope Coker to get his foot on the ball in the centre of midfield and search out winger Agyakwa. He crossed for Pinnock, who failed to make the required connection with his back-post volley.
There was a nervous spell in the 35th minute with Southend eventually shepherding the ball out to Jakubiak, who set up Dillon for a curling shot that narrowly evaded the left-hand upright. Play quickly switched to the opposite end where Hyams’ high ball was misjudged by the defence, allowing Snook to drill inches wide of the right-hand post.
“Watford were a very direct side, and early on we didn’t cope with that well. But we got used to it and, once we had adapted, I thought we played well. We had a young side out there today, but I wouldn’t take any of their players over mine. They’ve come from being a Category One Academy into Category Three, and we’ve showed today, and in the previous meeting with them, that we can live with them,” said Duncan.
Southend began to edge further into the game after a scrappy start to the second period. Flankers Pinnock and Agyakwa continued to impress, the former setting up Edwards for an attempt that was charged down and the latter sending a centre in for Snook, who couldn’t quite divert the ball home at the near post. Then, on the hour, Pinnock’s enterprising run ended with a short pass to Snook, who chipped over from inside the ‘D’.
Shortly afterwards, Watford could have forged further ahead, but O’Nien spurned two headed chances inside a minute. LFE Championship Apprentice of the Year nominee Mensah supplied both crosses, only for the midfielder to powerfully nod wide of the left hand post with the first opportunity and then send a diving header wide of the opposite upright with the second.
Ultimately, the game was decided a quarter-of-an-hour from the end when Southend failed to net an equaliser after laying seige to the Hornets goal. Pinnock delivered a superb corner and the ball bounced up invitingly for Edwards, who saw his goalbound strike deflect first off a defender and then the unsighted Wilks before skimming the bar as well. From the next Pinnock flag-kick, Edwards saw another attempt charged down before Agyakwa’s deep corner was stabbed just wide of his own post by Mensah.
The oustanding Pinnock almost levelled in the 77th minute, but his 25-yard strike cannoned back off the crossbar with schoolboy centre-half Dan Missoussa slipping as he sent the rebound over. Then, as Watford were unable to clear adequately, Pinnock lined-up a free-kick that Wilks managed to parry to safety.
Custodian Wilks continued to thwart the winger deep into the match and, with four minutes remaining, he somehow reacted to tip over after Pinnock had juggled the ball just outside the six-yard box at an acute angle, spinning to smash a wickedly dipping volley towards the top left-hand corner.
Within a minute, Snook crossed for substitute Jason Williams, who failed to direct his close-range header towards the goal and Watford broke down the right, Jakubiak setting up Bowling for a composed sliding finish underneath the unfortunate Smith. That was completely against the run of play, and yet Smith still had to produce an excellent fingertip save to push George Byers’ low strike wide of the post.
Despite the defeat, Duncan was upbeat at the end: “You couldn’t accuse us of not giving it our best shot. For 40 minutes in the second half we were camped in their half, and I’m not sure how we haven’t scored. At times the ball just wouldn’t fall for us, but I’ve told the team that, when you get those chances like we did, then you’ve got to take them because otherwise you’ll get punished.”
“You could tell from the way that Watford celebrated their second goal that they were relieved. We gifted them the first goal, but we gave it a real go after that. If we hadn’t have conceded then, I’m sure we’d’ve won it, but we were chasing the game,” he concluded ruefully.
Southend United: Ted Smith, Daniel King, Robert Hyams (Kane Farrell, 60), Fope Coker (Jason Williams, 70), Josh Banton, Dan Missoussa (Aaron Tatham, 83), Marlon Agyakwa, Jack Edwards, Daniel Snook, Jack Bridge, Mitchell Pinnock. Substitutes not used: Charlie Barlow, Michael Ademuliyi.
Cautioned: Pinnock (70, failing to retreat the required distance from the ball).