Southend United under-18's 2-2 Norwich City under-18's
Southend United’s Under-18 side continued the impressive start to their pre-season campaign with a 2-2 draw against FA Youth Cup holders Norwich City at Boots & Laces.
“Norwich sent down a good squad of first and second-year scholars, and I thought it was an excellent match,” said Southend United Head of Youth Ricky Duncan. “I’d like to thank them for coming down again following a good game last year, and it was useful for us to step up our preparations against a club that won the FA Youth Cup last season.”
“I think you can really see now how things are coming together; the patterns of play and how the players are linking up together. We’ve had a few weeks together already and we’ve still got another three weeks to work on certain aspects and get us ready for the start of the new season,” he added.
Ted Smith returned to the side as captain after deputising for the first-team squad in the opening weeks of their pre-season endeavours, and he had to be alert after just 45 seconds when he was called into action for the first time to tip a skidding 20-yard shot around the right-hand post.
Having dealt with the ensuing corner with relative ease, Blues began to break into their own attacking stride, and their opening attempt on goal was delivered by left-back Kane Farrell, who advanced to around 25 yards out before firing wide.
Southend did not have to wait long before taking the lead. Less than seven minutes were on the clock when Jack Bridge, who had recovered from a recent ankle injury, threaded the ball into the feet of Jason Williams and he banished the memory of his penalty miss against Luton Town by holding off a Norwich defender and arrowing a shot into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
Williams was denied a quickfire second when his downward header from an Emmanuel Adeyeye corner was blocked on the goal-line, but Blues were soon 2-0 up after 13 minutes. Adeyeye delivered another inswinging corner from the right flank and the ball took a slight deflection on the way through to Bridge, who was waiting at the back post to sweep home.
“It was an excellent start. Jason looked bright and the way that the defender just bounced off him when he scored his goal showed the strength and potential he has. Jack was superb throughout his hour on the pitch; he pulled all the strings in the hole and it was a really impressive display from them both,” reported Duncan.
Within seconds of extending their lead, Southend wasted a great chance to make it 3-0 when Bridge’s low free-kick was pushed out into the path of Josh Banton, but the central defender couldn’t keep his finish down. Charlie Barlow then tried his luck, cutting inside onto his left foot before drawing a good stop from the Norwich goalkeeper.
Smith was brought into action again as the match continued to be played at a lively pace, pushing a well-struck effort around the post in the 19th minute, but Norwich reduced their arrears after 24 when a short corner routine saw a cross worked into the six-yard box and a visiting player bundled the ball over the line from close range.
That setback failed to rock Blues, who almost restored their two-goal lead in the 27th minute when Jason Williams brought a right-wing pass under control and drove narrowly across the face of goal. Two minutes later, Farrell’s centre from the left flank dropped to Daniel King, who attempted an acrobatic mid-range effort that the Norwich goalkeeper was grateful to gather. Shortly afterwards, Jordan Williams’ hanging cross was dropped by the custodian, but namesake Jason and Adeyeye couldn’t take advantage.
Unfortunately, against the run of play, Norwich equalised in the 38th minute. Adeyeye failed to wrap his foot around a clearance and the ball fell invitingly for a City attacker to slam in a convincing finish past Smith. Even after the equaliser, Southend could have gone in at half-time ahead, but Michael Ademuliyi saw a shot deflected wide after good work from Barlow and Jason Williams.
“As a defensive unit, we did really well. I don’t want to single anyone out because they all did their jobs well today, so I’m pleased with how things are going at the back. Both goals were ultimately preventable, but pre-season is all about ironing out those little mistakes,” said Duncan.
Blues made four changes at the interval, with winger Brandon Scott immediately in the action with a mazy run. The first-year elected to pass at the end of the move when there was an opportunity to shoot and Bridge embarked on a similarly enterprising run a little later, but he too couldn’t deliver a definitive finish. Defender Daniel Matsuzaka also went close when he nodded over from a corner just after the hour mark.
Norwich had chances of their own early in the second period, and full-back Jordan Williams did well to cover and deny a certain goal in the 52nd minute before an onrushing forward later somehow found a way to force the ball over the crossbar from inches out midway through the half. Another opportunity in the 83rd minute saw a substitute loft the ball over from eight yards out.
Despite making further substitutions throughout the half, Southend maintained an attacking presence. Macauley Keaton’s chipped pass released Freddie Gard but, despite hoisting the ball over the ‘keeper, the playmaker couldn’t stretch and stab in under pressure, whilst both Gard and Nico Cotton failed to get near post efforts on target following centres by Ross Johnson and Scott respectively.
The match ended with Scott forcing the replacement Norwich goalkeeper into a fine stop late on, leaving Duncan happy with a 2-2 draw: “We had a lot of youngsters on the pitch at the end, and you can see that players like Macauley Keaton are growing in confidence. Little Freddie Gard reminds me so much of Jack Payne at his age, and I’m looking forward to testing ourselves against a different type of opponent in Concord Rangers next week.”
Southend United U18s: Ted Smith, Jordan Williams (Ross Johnson, 62), Kane Farrell (Kojo Apenteng, 69), Daniel King (Charlie Barlow, 69), Josh Banton, Daniel Matsuzaka, Michael Ademuliyi (Brandon Scott, 46), Barlow (Macauley Keaton, 46), Jason Williams (James Pinnock, 46), Jack Bridge (Freddie Gard, 62), Emmanuel Adeyeye (Nico Cotton, 46).