Under-18's get ready for the FA Youth Cup first round with a 1-0 win against Crawley Town
Southend United U18s edged out Crawley Town 1-0 at Boots & Laces in their final fixture before Tuesday night’s FA Youth Cup First Round clash with Maidstone United, temporarily hoisting themselves up to second in the Football League Youth Alliance South East Conference table in the process.
Jack Bridge’s fifth goal of the season early in the second period was enough to earn a third consecutive home win for Blues’ Youths, who are now unbeaten in over two months at Boots & Laces. During that time goalkeeper Ted Smith has gone almost 300 minutes without conceding a goal on home territory, and his superb double save just before half-time was equally crucial to the Shrimpers’ success.
Youth team coach Dave Huzzey was pleased with how the team reacted to a poor defensive showing in the 4-4 draw at Stevenage, although he admitted there was still much to work on: “I’m pleased with what we’ve done since last week because we weren’t happy with conceding four goals. We don’t want to be conceding that many, even though we managed to score four of our own. There was a bit of a reaction from that, and it was good not to concede today.”
“It was a hard game and, to be fair to the lads, they got the three points, but the performance was nowhere near good enough and nowhere near where we expect from our team. Crawley came here and they had a plan and worked really hard. They tested us, so it was a really tough one today,” he said.
Forward Jason Williams returned to the starting line-up after injury, allowing Nico Cotton and Brandon Scott to revert to their usual wide positions, but it was the visitors who enjoyed the better of the early exchanges. Smith had already made one useful stop before he was called upon in the fifth minute to dive full-length to his right to keep out another 20-yard effort as Southend struggled to come to terms with the heavy surface.
A Crawley front-man also had a good opportunity two minutes later when he was put clean through behind the Blues back-line but, with the imposing Smith bearing down on him, he wasted the chance by firing over. At the other end, Williams got around the Crawley goalkeeper but he was unable to pick out Nico Cotton with his cross as the goal remained unattended.
The Red Devils could have been affected by an injury to their custodian after a quarter-of-an-hour when he slipped whilst delivering a goal-kick and, although he was eventually deemed fit enough to continue, he remained uncomfortable. That gave Huzzey and Ricky Duncan a chance to talk to their charges but, despite Scott being denied by an excellent challenge as he tried to convert Cotton’s pass, Crawley remained on top.
The visitors could have taken the lead from a free-kick but the chance was blasted over, and the same fate befell another Crawley youngster after Ross Johnson had failed to collect Daniel Matsuzaka’s pass just ahead of the half-hour mark. There was a brief period of respite for the defence when Matsuzaka nodded Cotton’s corner over and Williams delivered a ferocious deflected shot wide following good build-up play from Daniel King and Bridge, but Southend still required Smith’s vital intervention three minutes before the break to keep it goalless.
A cross from the right hand side was nodded down and a Crawley forward stabbed goalwards from the edge of the six-yard box, necessitating a point-blank stop from Smith, who then had to leap up quickly to claw the follow-up header away from the top left-hand corner. One of the visiting players was so certain the ball would cross the line that he had yelped in celebration before his mood turned to anguish.
Blues had another escape shortly afterwards when a winger skewed his attempt across the face of goal, leaving Huzzey full of praise for his shotstopper: “Ted’s pleased with his performance and he should be. The two saves in the first half - one down low and then one up in the top corner - were brilliant, and that’s why he is where he is; that’s why he’s with England and that’s why he’s talked about so much because he is that good.”
Southend made two substitutions at half-time, introducing Harry Norman and schoolboy Dan Walker in place of King, who suffered a slight calf strain, and Williams, and they approached the second period with renewed purpose. Their intent resulted in the only goal of the game, forced over the line by Bridge as he held off the attentions of the goalkeeper to hook home. The playmaker has netted in all four of his appearances this term, and he had Nico Cotton’s flag-kick, plus the tenacity of Matsuzaka and Walker to nudge the ball into his path, to thank for his latest effort.
Charlie Barlow also went close to scoring during a good start to the second half after he had controlled Scott’s pass, and Huzzey was much happier with the display after the interval: “One of the biggest positives was how the lads reacted after we had a chat with them at half-time. We let them know at half-time that it wasn’t good enough, and for the next 15 minutes they were good.”
“They pinned Crawley in their own half and we scored a goal during that time as well, which we deserved. After that, I think we controlled the game; they had a lot of possession towards the end as they were pummelling it forward and trying to score, but we dealt with it quite well. We were disappointing in the first half, but I’m really pleased with the reaction in the second half,” he confirmed.
Southend had further openings, and Bridge smashed a 28-yard free-kick narrowly wide after sub Sonny Coutts had been brought down. Walker then warmed the goalkeeper’s gloves after a forceful 78th-minute run, but Blues were also relieved that Johnson got a crucial touch to a left-wing centre to divert the ball away from two expectant forwards just seconds later.
Bridge half-volleyed wide and Scott fired a searing strike just the wrong side of the upright on the counter-attack in the closing stages, but Smith caught a succession a high balls into the penalty area to make sure Southend extended their recent run to just one defeat in their last eight games. Next up is The FA Youth Cup tie against Maidstone United at Roots Hall on Tuesday evening, and Huzzey was happy that his squad could finally focus on that match following a tough week.
“We’ve tried not to mention The FA Youth Cup at all, but at half-time it was hard not to. It seemed like we weren’t really at the races today, and I think the fact that game is coming up did play a part. As young boys, they’ve got to realise that if they want to become professional footballers they’ve got to focus on the game they’re playing, not the one they’ve got next week.”
“After the game we could see all the boys smiling because they know that they can start talking about it. As we get closer to that game, they can start thinking about it now; we’re disappointed they were thinking about it before today, but now it’s a bit of a relief that they can think about that and nothing else,” he concluded.
Southend United U18s: Ted Smith, Jordan Williams, Emmanuel Adeyeye, Daniel King (Harry Norman, 46), Daniel Matsuzaka, Ross Johnson, Brandon Scott, Charlie Barlow (Sonny Coutts, 65), Jason Williams (Dan Walker, 46), Jack Bridge, Nico Cotton. Substitutes not used: Kojo Apenteng, Freddie Gard.
Goal: Bridge (49).