Youth team win 2-0 at AFC Wimbledon to move to fifth in the league table
Youth team coach Dave Huzzey hailed the resilience and depth of the Southend United U18s squad after watching his side complete a 2-0 win over AFC Wimbledon in south-west London.
With goalkeeper Ted Smith on international duty with England U18s, Huzzey was additionally unable to call upon Jason Williams (groin) and the previously ever-present Daniel Matsuzaka (hip flexor) after the pair picked up injuries during the week to join Josh Banton, Jack Bridge and Charlie Barlow in the treatment room.
Nonetheless, a starting line-up featuring just three second-year scholars battled hard to claim a fourth League victory of the campaign at King’s College Sports Ground in New Malden, enabling Huzzey to heap praise on his charges. “It shows how good the system is when we’ve got U16s coming in who are good enough to come in and play at this level,” he declared.
“Sometimes it’s nice to bring a youngster in to come and play with the older boys because it freshens things up so, although we don’t want injuries, we can cope with them because we’ve got some good players coming through. That said, it’s good to have a week off before Stevenage, when hopefully we’ll have more players back.”
Jordan Williams was passed fit to return at right-back, whilst Keating made his first start in four weeks after suffering a dead leg whilst playing in a trial game for the Republic of Ireland U17s squad in September. Conor Hudnott, a first-year from Queens Park Rangers, was drafted in to replace Smith in goal after playing against Blues as a loanee for Peterborough United last weekend.
Hudnott was probably relieved to be on the same side as Kane Farrell after the full-back’s wonderful strike last Saturday, but it was defensive work that Southend had to undertake early on. AFC Wimbledon kept the ball well and worked it around in midfield, but they failed to test Hudnott and instead Daniel Snook had the first shot after nine minutes as his 20-yard effort took a deflection following a cushioned touch from Nico Cotton.
By the 12th minute, the visitors were celebrating taking the lead through Keating’s first goal for the club. The first-year midfielder received the ball 25 yards from goal and ghosted past a couple of opponents before arrowing his shot into the bottom left-hand corner from the edge of the penalty area to make it 1-0.
“Macca had a bit of a problem with his knee in training yesterday, but he said he was fine to play. I think he started a bit slowly but, after his goal, he got into the game and worked really well. He came off at half-time because of his injury, but it was a superb first half from him,” reported Huzzey.
The goal galvanised Blues, and they immediately won the ball from the restart with Farrell picking out captain Daniel King. He advanced through midfield to drill narrowly wide from distance, and Brandon Scott soon threatened after switching to the left flank, cutting inside to force a defender to head away in desperate fashion in the 19th minute.
Keating had an effort charged down shortly afterwards to increase Southend’s monopoly on the chances, even though the Dons maintained a greater proportion of possession. Wimbledon’s predicament was intensified on 27 minutes when Scott contributed his fourth goal of the season to double the lead. Hudnott picked out the winger with a long goal-kick and the former Charlton Athletic youngster controlled the ball beautifully before dribbling wide of the goalkeeper and squeezing his shot inside the right-hand post.
“Brandon helped himself to another good finish; he won’t stop scoring at the moment and I’m really pleased for him,” said Huzzey, who had to watch Wimbledon finish the half strongly by forcing Hudnott into an excellent parried save just before the half-hour mark. A forward later stabbed wide when well-placed in the 37th minute.
“At half-time we knew they were going to come back at us after we’d gone 2-0 up in the first half but we defended really well as a team. It just showed the togetherness of all the boys, and the desire not to concede a goal was superb today,” claimed the coach.
Keating was withdrawn at the break through injury, and Snook added to the mounting casualty list just after the hour mark after collapsing whilst helping out defending a set-piece. By that time, King had evoked memories of his 30-yard screamer against Gillingham by firing marginally over after good work by Farrell and Scott on the left-hand side, whilst at the other end Hudnott got down low to effect another smart save at his near post.
Southend were relieved to see a strike from the edge of the penalty area bounce back off the crossbar when a midfielder was afforded to much space in the 63rd minute, but they had an opportunity to put the match beyond their hosts midway through the half when substitute Daniel Walker, another schoolboy, slipped Cotton in, only for the wide man to be denied by the goalkeeper.
Blues’ Youths couldn’t retain possession well enough to make the match safe and, had a Wimbledon attacker not lifted the ball over the bar when faced with just Hudnott to beat seven minutes from the end, there may have been flashbacks to last season, when Southend let a 2-0 lead slip from their grasp. However, there was no repeat of that as they dug in to grind out a hard-fought success ahead of a weekend without a competitive game on 19th October.
Huzzey was pleased to see the side keep a third clean sheet in four matches, and gave a special mention to custodian Hudnott and debutant Walker in his summary: “A couple of challenges we set during the week were about keeping a clean sheet and I’m over the moon that we did that. Conor literally came in today and he worked well with the boys and listened really well. He’s only a first-year himself; he did really well with his feet and in playing out from the back, so I was impressed with him.”
“When we stepped back after bringing off Kane and realised we had Dan King as the only second-year on the pitch, plus two schoolboys at striker and centre-half, it just confirmed to us the talent the club has got in its ranks from U15s up to youth team level. We’ve got some really good players and it’s exciting for next year, and for the years after that. Dan Walker came on and was quality; he was a real handful and a real presence up front,” the coach concluded.
Southend United U18s: Conor Hudnott, Jordan Williams, Kane Farrell (Emmanuel Adeyeye, 78), Daniel King, Sonny Coutts, Ross Johnson, Brandon Scott, Macauley Keating (Harry Norman, 46), Daniel Snook (Dan Walker, 62), Freddie Gard, Nico Cotton.
Goals: Keating (12), Scott (27).
Cautioned: Norman (81, dissent).