Southend United U18s continued their impressive home form with a 2-0 victory over Peterborough United to enhance their chances of progressing from Group Four of the Football League Youth Alliance Cup.
Goals from Brandon Scott and Kane Farrell either side of the half-time interval represented rich reward for a professional performance by Blues, who were made to work hard defensively for their fifth Boots & Laces success of the season. Despite conceding a territorial advantage throughout much of the game, Southend quelled any threat and goalkeeper Ted Smith was only called upon to make a save in second-half stoppage time.
“I’m delighted with the win. I think that’s the best performance we’ve put in this year, and the result was gained through sheer hard work and professionalism,” opined youth team coach Dave Huzzey, who made two changes to the starting line-up following last weekend’s 3-1 defeat at Colchester. Defender Josh Banton made his first U18s start of the season, replacing Sonny Coutts, and Harry Norman came in for the injured Charlie Barlow in midfield.
“We did really well in the first half; we let them play onto us and they had loads of possession, but every time we nicked it we looked like we were going to score and the first goal summed that up. At half-time we talked about our professionalism and how the lads talked to each other in order to motivate themselves to work harder, and the second half showed that because we were brilliant.”
Peterborough saw a lot of the ball from the early stages of the game, but it was Blues who had the first shot in anger when Nico Cotton fired narrowly wide from Jason Williams’ sixth-minute lay-off. Five minutes later it was right-winger Brandon Scott’s turn to go close as he saw a chipped cross float over the goalkeeper and bounce back off the left-hand upright.
The visitors sent a rising shot wide after a quarter-of-an-hour and also had the ball in the back of the net after a sharp passing move nine minutes later, only for the assistant referee to raise his flag for offside, but Southend appeared to be more incisive when they attacked and Williams and Freddie Gard combined to set up Norman 30 yards out in the 36th minute. The midfielder lined up a dipping effort that deceived the goalkeeper but bounced back off the crossbar.
“Sometimes you will play against sides who have lots of the ball and it’s about how you affect them when they have it. If they have loads of the ball at the back and in the middle third, it’s about how you are set up so that when you regain possession, you’re ready to go and break. With Nico and Brandon we will always have a threat out wide and I thought Dan King had a really good game because he just sat and screened the pass into the striker. The possession didn’t worry us because we knew about it and we’d worked all week on it, and I thought that showed today,” said Huzzey.
Crucially, Southend stole the lead five minutes before half-time. Cotton was well-positioned to seize hold of the ball and he measured his pass to Scott, who gently lofted his third goal of the season over the ‘keeper. “Coming in a goal up gives you a platform to work with. We sat behind the ball and were really patient. It was a lovely little weighted pass from Nico and a great finish from Brandon,” Huzzey commented.
The second half appeared to be following a similar pattern to its predecessor when Ross Johnson was called upon to clear off the goalline as a right-sided cross looped over Smith, but within seconds Kane Farrell had enhanced his burgeoning goalscoring reputation with a superb 56th minute strike. The full-back collected the ball on the left flank and progressed into the penalty area, darting inside and beating a defender before sweetly stroking the ball into the top right-hand corner with his right foot.
“He just kept going. It looked like he was heading down a blind alley, but he cut inside and, after a couple of turns, he put it in the top corner. Kane’s scored a few goals this season now, but what Brandon did really well was run out of his way to give Kane the space to carry on going. It was another really important goal because they had loads of possession and it just gave the team more belief to go on and win the game,” reported Huzzey.
Blues began to play with increasing confidence and King twice attempted long-range efforts in the ensuing ten minutes, firing inches wide before drawing a save from the Posh goalkeeper. Midway through the second half, Banton got in front of the custodian but his flicked finish from a Farrell free-kick was directed marginally over.
There were a couple of late efforts from the visitors, with an attacker dragging a shot wide eight minutes from the end and a striker spinning to force that injury time stop from Smith, who will now link up with England U18s this week on the back of two clean sheets in his last three Shrimpers appearances. The only sour note was Banton limping off after trying to crowd out a forward, something the defence had done superbly all morning.
“As soon as we scored the second one, I knew we’d have to weather a storm, but we were organised and we worked really hard. A special mention deserves to go to Ross Johnson at right-back. He was superb today playing against probably their best player and dealing with him really well. Ross used his brains to get into some good positions so their player didn’t affect us too much. We’ve been drawn in a really hard group this year and getting this win was really important,” concluded Huzzey.
Southend United: Ted Smith, Ross Johnson, Kane Farrell, Daniel King, Josh Banton, Daniel Matsuzaka, Brandon Scott, Harry Norman (Macauley Keating, 63), Jason Williams, Freddie Gard (Kojo Apenteng, 76), Nico Cotton. Substitutes not used: Emmanuel Adeyeye, Daniel Snook, Jordan Williams.
Goals: Scott (40), Farrell (56).
Cautioned: Scott (86, foul tackle), Banton (90+5, foul tackle).