Visitors come from behind to beat Blues' youngsters
Southend United’s Under-18 team slumped to a 3-1 defeat against Stevenage at Boots & Laces, despite Fope Coker giving them an early lead in their latest Football League Youth Alliance South East Conference fixture.
Coker’s 16th-minute set-piece gave Blues’ Youths the perfect start, but the hosts were rocked by Jimmy Hartley’s equaliser seven minutes before the break, and two further strikes during the second half gave an organised Stevenage outfit a convincing victory.
Southend’s Head of Youth, Ricky Duncan, acknowledged his side’s shortcomings at the final whistle: “I don’t want to take anything away from Stevenage because they have come here and played very well, and they deservedly collected the three points, but that was one of our poorest performances of the season.”
“We didn’t play as a team; there were too many individuals out there playing for themselves, and when you do that, then you are not going to get the right result. When you contrast that game to the one we played here against QPR a week ago, there’s a massive difference, and that’s something we have to put right,” he added.
Southend, who had narrowly lost out to Watford in the Football League Youth Alliance Cup in midweek, were looking to bounce back quickly and they made an impressive early start as Coker locked his radar on the top left-hand corner of the net in the second minute. However, the midfielder’s 25-yard effort was brilliantly turned away by visiting goalkeeper Charlie Horlock.
Hartley could count himself unfortunate not to put Stevenage a goal up in the ninth minute as he sprung the offside trap to burst clear of the defence on the right-hand side. The winger slid his shot beyond Ted Smith, but the ball bounced back off the base of the left-hand upright and Blues were able to scramble the ball to safety.
Mitchell Pinnock was full of confidence early on following a virtuoso performance against the Hornets, but his strike from the edge of the penalty area bounced across the face of goal in the eleventh minute. However, the Shrimpers did take the lead five minutes later when Jack Bridge was tripped 20 yards out. Coker ushered set-piece specialist Pinnock away from the ball and dispatched the dead ball over the wall and past a motionless Horlock.
The visitors could have hauled themselves level within sixty seconds, but Tommy Millard was unable to convert Rohdell Gordon’s centre as Kane Farrell swept across to cover the forward’s run. Although Stevenage continued to battle hard, Southend did have chances to extend their lead, and Marlon Agyakwa saw a shot charged down before Pinnock half-volleyed over. Coker then sent Agyakwa clear midway through the half, but Horlock was equal to his near-post strike.
By the time Daniel Snook was apprehended by the brave custodian after intelligent play from Bridge and Agyakwa in the 35th minute, Harry Jeffery had been called upon to clear after a Stevenage forward broke away, and the away side levelled seven minutes before the break. Hartley was the goalscorer, converting from six yards as the ball was drilled in from the right flank.
Stevenage could have gone in at the interval ahead, but a right-wing corner was nodded powerfully over the crossbar from close range, and it was a similar story at the start of the second period, except this time neither Snook nor Jack Edwards could touch home Pinnock’s flag-kick for Southend.
Josh Banton could have headed Blues in front in the 53rd minute, but his glancing contact with Agyakwa’s corner was blocked on the goal-line, and that allowed Stevenage to make a decisive move just after the hour mark. Substitute Joe N’Guessan released a forward with a precise right-wing pass, and the ball was rolled past Smith and in off the left-hand post.
Jeffery’s impressive return from injury continued as he exchanged passes with Pinnock halfway through the second period, but the defender skied his attempt and that allowed Stevenage to edge further ahead in the 74th minute. N’Guessan crossed for Hartley, who would have found the bottom left-hand corner of the net had Smith not swooped to push the ball out, only for Millard to tuck away the rebound.
There remained half-chances for Southend to get back into the game, with Edwards nodding over and Snook failing to get a telling touch onto Jason Williams’ drive, but the best opportunity fell to the visitors’ Millard, who was denied by Smith’s smart near-post stop.
“When we did have a little spell where we had a few opportunities, we didn’t take them and, as I said on Wednesday after the Watford defeat, if you don’t convert your chances then you make it very difficult for yourselves. We’ve now got to regroup on Tuesday against Gillingham,” he concluded. Blues travel to Beechings Cross for a 2.00pm kick-off at the Gills’ training ground in midweek for their latest League fixture.
Southend United: Ted Smith, Harry Jeffery, Kane Farrell, Jack Edwards, Josh Banton, Dan Matsuzaka, Marlon
Agyakwa, Fope Coker (Charlie Barlow, 84), Daniel Snook, Jack Bridge (Jack Bridge, 57), Mitchell Pinnock (Kojo Apenteng, 84). Substitutes not used: Robert Hyams, Daniel King.
Goal: Coker (16).