Thriller as Daniel King grabs last minute equaliser to earn a 4-4 draw
Daniel King’s dramatic late leveller secured a share of the spoils for Southend United U18s at Stevenage and ensured that they grabbed second place in Group Four of the Football League Youth Alliance Cup southern section.
Midfielder King executed the perfect volley just outside the edge of the penalty area deep into stoppage time to rescue a point for Ricky Duncan’s side after they had let a 3-1 lead slip during an action-packed second half. Blues boss Duncan believes that the result is enough to qualify for the knockout stages, but he was far from happy with the overall performance.
“Both myself and [youth team coach] Dave Huzzey have agreed that this game was our worst performance of the season. We had a young team, but we lacked a solid defensive base and we were very fortunate to come away with a draw. I shook every one of the Stevenage players’ hands after the match because they played well today, and they were unlucky not to win,” reflected Southend’s Head of Youth.
“Despite the fact that we were far from our best, you can only praise the determination and team spirit we’ve got here; it’s a special group. To grab a last-minute equaliser like that was incredible, and the strike from Dan is just our latest Goal of the Month contender.”
Kane Farrell lost his ever-present youth team record after picking up a groin injury in last week’s Essex Senior Cup defeat to Harlow Town, and he was joined on the sidelines by Daniel Snook, Macauley Keating, Josh Banton and Jason Williams, although the latter two were both able to undertake some fitness and ball work as they progress towards a return.
Ted Smith made his first appearance since debuting for England U18s earlier this month, and Charlie Barlow and Jack Bridge were both fit enough to be restored to the side whilst Emmanuel Adeyeye made his first start in two months at left-back. He was quickly involved in the action, too, tracking across to slide the ball out of play as a forward raced through in the second minute.
In a high-tempo opening, Kojo Apenteng looped the first shot on target into the gloves of the Stevenage goalkeeper before Bridge, whose free-kick had been charged down in the lead-up to the previous opportunity, waltzed down the right flank to bring an impressive stop out of the custodian at his near post.
The game remained in its infancy when Smith did brilliantly to push out a downward header from a corner at the back post and a combination of Adeyeye and Barlow managed to block the follow-up on the goal-line, before Bridge escaped behind the Stevenage back-line at the opposite end to send a chipped finish narrowly wide.
The hosts continued to push on but, after a couple of efforts had been directed marginally off-target, the decision to swap the positions of Nico Cotton and Brandon Scott began to pay dividends for Blues. Scott had not been typically influential as a lone forward, but Cotton immediately drew a foul in the 20th minute and Barlow curled the dead ball inches wide of the left-hand upright from the edge of the ‘D’.
Scott was more comfortable and became involved himself in his new role on the left flank, returning Bridge’s 24th-minute pass for the playmaker to hoist a cross up to Apenteng at the far post. The midfielder was only denied a first goal for the U18s by an excellent low save, and Cotton’s resultant corner was almost deflected inside the left-hand upright.
A couple of minutes before the half-hour mark, Smith made another important stop, this time getting a strong right wrist onto the ball to turn away a fierce strike at his near post, and that allowed his team to edge in front eleven minutes before the break. The talismanic Bridge strode through the midfield and, spotting that the ‘keeper had come off his line, measured a superb lob over the custodian from the edge of the penalty area to make it 1-0.
Within minutes he could have had his second as Adeyeye nodded Apenteng’s cross into his path but, having controlled the ball, he found himself crowded out inside the six-yard box by some useful Stevenage defending. The homesters then proceeded to push Blues back inside their own territory during the last five minutes of the first half. A searing shot flew narrowly over and Smith saved another attempt before Stevenage rattled the crossbar with a thumping 30-yard effort.
Nothing that had happened during that opening period could prepare the spectators for what was about to occur after the interval. Duncan spent a long time in discussion with his forward players before they took to the pitch for the second half, and the conversation paid immediate dividends as Southend raced into a 2-0 lead. Cotton was the creator, latching onto a high ball before forcing the ‘keeper into a parried save that the winger retrieved and centred for Scott to ram home from close range. It was the first-year scholar’s fifth goal of the campaign, and surely his simplest finish.
Stevenage responded within three minutes as they worked the ball into the penalty area from the left-hand side and the shot was fired beneath Smith from 15 yards out, although Southend wasted no time in restoring the two-goal advantage on this occasion. Barlow had been unable to guide home Scott’s centre during the intervening period, but Adeyeye netted his second goal of the campaign by stabbing the ball in via the right-hand post after good work from Bridge in midfield.
That was the third goal in just five minutes but, after a brief interlude during which schoolboy Dan Walker replaced Apenteng, the action picked up again after the hour. Smith effected a fingertip save to keep the score at 3-1, pushing the ball into the side-netting, but he was helpless to keep out the next strike, managing only to palm a rising shot into the roof of the net after an attacker had cut back onto his right foot.
Southend were suddenly anxious and their defending became ragged as a result. A header was nodded wide and a right-wing cross flew tantalisingly in front of an onrushing forward before Stevenage equalised in the 71st minute. A pumped free-kick into the penalty box was only cleared out to another home player, and he recycled the ball to create the opportunity for a controlled finish into the bottom left-hand corner of Smith’s net.
Worse was to follow just sixty seconds later as Stevenage were awarded a penalty. The waves of attacks had taken their toll and Harry Norman, recently introduced in place of Barlow, brought down a forward from behind inside the area. The striker got up and sent Smith the wrong way from the spot to complete the turnaround and put the hosts 4-3 ahead.
Freddie Gard replaced Cotton on the right flank, and Blues took stock of their situation. Norman chipped over after exchanging passes with Bridge, but the impetus for the visitors’ late rally came after a loud penalty appeal for a pull on Scott was turned down by the referee in the 84th minute. Scott was cautioned shortly afterwards following an altercation with a Stevenage substitute, but that just showed the desire Southend had retained despite the previous set-backs.
Bridge drove his troops on and, in the 88th minute, slipped Scott in behind the defence, only for the goalkeeper to beat his attempt away. Two minutes later, Daniel Matsuzaka met Scott’s corner, and this time the ‘keeper bravely deflected the ball over whilst King headed wide from Gard’s ensuing flag-kick. When Walker’s side-footed shot bounced agonisingly over from another Scott delivery, it looked like Southend were about to be thwarted.
But King had other ideas. Southend won a throw deep in Stevenage territory and Gard propelled the ball into the penalty area. It was cleared away but only as far as the second-year scholar, who swivelled on the spot to arc the ball through a crowded area and away from the goalkeeper, sensationally drawing his team level. He was quickly enveloped by his team-mates, who were delighted to hear the referee’s final whistle upon the restart.
“We scored four excellent goals this morning, and there were positives in that Mani came in and took his goal well, we got 70 minutes out of Charlie Barlow on his comeback and 90 out of Jack Bridge as he returned from injury. But we know that we will have to play an awful lot better if we are to keep this unbeaten run going against Crawley Town on Friday,” admitted Duncan in conclusion.
Southend United: Ted Smith, Jordan Williams, Emmanuel Adeyeye, Daniel King, Daniel Matsuzaka, Ross Johnson, Kojo Apenteng (Dan Walker, 60), Charlie Barlow (Harry Norman, 69), Brandon Scott, Jack Bridge, Nico Cotton (Freddie Gard, 76). Substitutes not used: Sonny Coutts, Alfie Vinton.
Goals: Bridge (34), Scott (46), Adeyeye (51), King (90+3).
Cautioned: King (67, dissent), Scott (84, adopting an aggressive attitude).