Agyakwa's strike earns Blues' youngsters a point
Marlon Agyakwa’s sensational strike on the stroke of half-time earned Southend United Under-18s a 1-1 draw at home to AFC Wimbledon after Chace Jacquart had given the visitors the lead inside the opening minute.
Blues enjoyed an advantage in terms of both possession and territory throughout the match, with youth team coach Stuart Bimson conceding that the result was a disappointment: “We made a rubbish start, letting in such an early goal, but we played well as the first half went on and started to spread the play better and get our passing game going.”
“It’s disappointing then, that we didn’t build on our performance at the end of the first half. We lost our composure and didn’t kick on as a result. We stopped passing, stopped spreading the play, and that’s not us. That meant we were restricted in the end to isolated opportunities,” Bimson reported.
Daniel King, Robert Hyams, Kojo Apenteng and Jason Williams were all handed starts as Bimson mixed-up the squad to ensure everyone had an extended run-out following Saturday’s 1-0 win over Dagenham & Redbridge, but Blues made the worst possible start as Wimbledon took the lead after just 38 seconds. Ted Smith rolled the ball out to Apenteng, who was swiftly dispossessed by Harlan Basker. His shot was turned away by Smith, but Jacquart was on the spot to sweep in the rebound.
“I thought Kojo bounced back really well after the mistake early on,” said Bimson. “He really got amongst them, he worked hard and he barely put a foot wrong, so I’m really happy with how he responded once the first minute was out of the way. As a side, after the first ten minutes, we did well in the first half.”
Only three minutes had passed when Hyams was cautioned for a foul 30 yards from his own goal and the Dons thought they had doubled their lead when the free-kick was scrambled in, but the referee blew his whistle for a foul on Smith as he attempted to claim a high ball.
Thereafter, Southend began to settle down. Apenteng’s 25-yarder flashed narrowly over and Williams mis-hit an effort from half the distance before Marlon Agyakwa’s right-wing centre narrowly eluded the waiting Jack Bridge. In the 17th minute, Agyakwa decided to try his luck from the edge of the penalty area, but central defender Terry Murray threw himself at the shot to divert it wide of the left-hand upright.
Agyakwa’s good work continued just before the half-hour when he darted down the left flank in order to cross for Mitchell Pinnock, but his second-year colleague couldn’t control the finish under pressure from a defender and sent the ball over the crossbar. It was to be Pinnock’s last action of the match as he limped off to be replaced by Jack Edwards.
Smith had to be at his best to thwart Tom Beere eight minutes before the interval, the left-winger cutting in from the touchline before slaloming between King and Daniel Matsuzaka to unleash a fierce strike. Smith turned that attempt around the left-hand post and could watch with a modicum of comfort seven minutes later when Beere thrashed a rasping effort narrowly over.
In between, Edwards powered his way through midfield to set up Bridge, who forced Jordan Knight into a useful stop at his near post and, in the 45th minute, Williams brought another good save from the custodian as his goalbound effort took a sizeable deflection and required Knight’s full attention.
The impressive shotstopper could do nothing in the third minute of stoppage time as Agyakwa capped an excellent performance with an outstanding strike. With the final kick of the first half, he assessed his options thirty yards out before slamming an unstoppable finish into the top left-hand corner of the net.
That should have been the signal for Southend to push on, and they almost took the lead within two minutes of the restart when Matsuzaka met Fope Coker’s set-piece with a strong header that Knight superbly tipped over. Five minutes later, half-time substitute Seedy Njie anticipated Agyakwa’s pass to release Williams, who dug out an accurate finish that Knight again pushed away to safety, this time besides the base of his right-hand post.
Matsuzaka, the schoolboy centre-back who has been an ever-present for the Under-18s in 2013, must have thought that he had scored his first goal for this age group in the 56th minute when he met Agyakwa’s corner, but not only was his header hacked off the line, but Josh Banton’s prodded follow-up was kept out, too.
Murray was inches away from giving Wimbledon the lead just before the hour mark, but his flicked header bounced wide of the right-hand post, and Southend went on to enjoy the better of things in the final half-hour. However, the play was too disjointed for the Shrimpers to force another spell of intense pressure, and they were reliant on intermittent snapshots.
Apenteng sliced wide and Coker curled a free-kick over before Agyakwa’s drilled shot from 22 yards out was bravely headed out by Murray. In stoppage time, Edwards scuffed an effort straight at Knight, who then easily claimed a Matsuzaka header after Banton had touched Hyams’ throw into his path, and the spoils were shared.
“We did have a few chances, but we couldn’t get any sustained pressure going in the second half. We don’t have a fixture on Saturday, so we’ll play an internal match just to keep everyone going ahead of two important fixtures next week against Watford on Tuesday and Luton Town on Saturday,” Bimson revealed.
Southend United: Ted Smith, Daniel King, Robert Hyams, Fope Coker, Josh Banton, Daniel Matsuzaka, Marlon Agyakwa, Kojo Apenteng (Charlie Barlow, 78), Jason Williams, Jack Bridge (Seedy Njie, 46), Mitchell Pinnock (Jack Edwards, 35). Substitutes not used: Kane Farrell, Daniel Snook.
Goal: Agyakwa (45+3).
Cautioned: Hyams (3, foul tackle).