Seedy Njie's brace can't help Blues into next round of the Essex Senior Cup
Southend United’s hopes of lifting the Essex Senior Cup for the first time since 2008 were dashed at the opening attempt this season as Ryman League Division One North club Harlow Town recorded a 3-2 Third Round victory over Blues at the Harlow Arena.
Southend haven’t tasted victory in the final of the BBC Essex-supported competition since Zoltan Liptak’s close-range finish secured a 1-0 Roots Hall win over Chelmsford City five-and-a-half years ago, and this season’s involvement was restricted to just 90 minutes despite a brace from young striker Seedy Njie.
Njie was the only squad member from the previous night’s League Two triumph over Fleetwood Town to feature in west Essex as Graham Coughlan took charge of an Under-21 team for the fixture. Jack Edwards skippered the side despite requiring five stitches in a head wound sustained during the friendly match at Crystal Palace earlier in midweek.
Harlow made a bright start and Shane Stamp drew a foul from Ryan Auger inside the first minute. That could have proved costly for the visitors, but Luke Chambers and Daniel Matsuzaka combined to thwart Leon Antoine and Stamp in quick succession from Robbie Martin’s set-piece. Chambers was then called upon to make a superb flying save to deny Antoine from another Martin dead ball delivery in the third minute.
Southend struggled to impose themselves in the early stages, and it was not until Chambers had scurried along his line to scoop up James Smith’s skidding 10th-minute strike that they came to life. Harlow goalkeeper Darren Behcet was eventually called upon to make an impressive stop at his near post after a quarter-of-an-hour when Mitchell Pinnock connected with Marlon Agyakwa’s deep right-wing cross.
With first-year scholar Harry Norman particularly impressive in a holding midfield role, Southend began to restrict Harlow’s forays forwards. Nonetheless, Chambers was still required to get a crucial glove to Alex Read’s low cross and push the ball away from the onrushing Smith in the 32nd minute. Blues retaliated through Njie, whose attempts to force Agyakwa’s inswinging corner over the line were repelled by ex-Shrimper Darren Blewitt’s goal-line clearance.
Kane Farrell became the latest Southend youngster to suffer a setback as he limped off with a groin injury to be replaced by Jordan Williams five minutes before half-time, but the reorganisation required with Auger switching to left-back didn’t knock Blues out of their stride and they ended the half with a flurry of corners and free-kicks. The final action of the opening period saw Pinnock’s well-struck effort from 30 yards out deflected inches past the right-hand upright.
Unfortunately, Blues could not carry that momentum into the second half and Stamp should have done better with a close-range attempt that he sliced wide at the back post in the 47th minute. Daniel King glanced a Pinnock cross wide for the visitors, but Read forced a fine stop from Chambers and the former Wales Under-19 international shotstopper was finally beaten when Daniel Brown rose to nod home Martin’s pinpoint free-kick.
Playmaker Freddie Gard was introduced in place of Charlie Barlow just before the hour mark, and he immediately injected some energy into midfield resulting in Njie flashing one shot narrowly wide and Behcet counting his blessings when another fierce strike squirmed through his gloves but was hacked off the line by a defender.
Despite those offerings, Southend’s task was made harder in the 63rd minute when the Hawks doubled their lead. Stamp crossed from the left flank and marksman Read was fortunate that Edwards’ initial block fell to his feet again to present a second chance and he was able to turn home clinically at the near post.
Although they were playing against some experienced non-League footballers, Blues continued to spiritedly go about their task and Njie should have done better than find the side-netting after Jordan Williams’ driving run off the right wing had given him the opportunity to shoot from eight yards out. However, he quickly made amends with 73 minutes gone as he held off the attentions of Antoine to latch onto the ball and guide it underneath the advancing Behcet.
Southend sensed an equaliser against a tiring Harlow side, and the tricky Brandon Scott was sent on down the left flank to exploit their fatigue, but Blues were undone by an excellent goal four minutes from the end. Brown picked out a fine pass to Stamp on the left-hand edge of the penalty area, and he opened up his body to sweep the ball into the top right-hand corner.
There was still time for Williams and Gard to be denied by desperate last-ditch blocks and then, in the second minute of stoppage time, Njie was awarded a penalty after being upended by Antoine. He brushed himself down and stroked the ball past Behcet himself to halve the deficit, but that was the final action of the game and Harlow were able to celebrate their first Essex Senior Cup win over Blues in four attempts.
Southend United: Luke Chambers, Ryan Auger, Kane Farrell (Jordan Williams, 40). Harry Norman, Daniel Matsuzaka, Jack Edwards, Marlon Agyakwa, Charlie Barlow (Freddie Gard, 57), Seedy Njie, Daniel King, Mitchell Pinnock (Brandon Scott, 78).Substitutes not used: Ted Smith, Ross Johnson.
Goals: Njie (73, 90+2 pen).
Cautioned: Auger (1, foul tackle), Njie (78, persistently infringing the Laws of the Game).