Cotton and Williams seal 2-0 win for Blues' under-18's against rivals
Late goals from Nico Cotton and Jason Williams helped Southend United U18s snatch a 2-0 victory over Dagenham & Redbridge in their latest Football League Youth Alliance South East Conference clash at Boots & Laces.
The match was deadlocked with nine minutes remaining when Cotton pounced, marking his comeback from suspension with the first goal of his U18s career, and the three points were secured in the final minute of the encounter when Jason Williams notched his sixth goal of the campaign.
Although clinching victory was difficult, youth team coach Dave Johnson felt that Southend deserved their success: “The boys did well to grind out a 2-0 result. I think it was a fair reflection in the end even though we went through a 25-minute spell after half-time where Dagenham were on top. It’s a credit to the team that they stayed in the game and came away with a 2-0 victory,” he said.
Johnson took up the managerial reins as Head of Youth Ricky Duncan was eager to watch some of the U16s in their game against the same opposition, and he made just one change to the team that had drawn 1-1 with Gillingham a week ago. Cotton was restored to the side immediately after his three-match ban in place of Macauley Keaton, with Freddie Gard moving into a more central role.
Southend started slowly, and a Dagenham forward looked certain to score before Ted Smith made an excellent stop with his right leg to divert the ball past the post in the fourth minute. The visitors pressed hard whenever Blues travelled into their half and made it difficult for the likes of Cotton, Gard and Brandon Scott to display their attacking flair early on.
However, Southend warmed to their task well and, after a quarter-of-an-hour, Jason Williams shaved the right-hand post with a curling attempt from Scott’s precise pass. Two minutes later, Gard connected with an acrobatic overhead bicycle kick after a Kane Farrell free-kick had been headed up into his path but the Daggers goalkeeper scrambled along his line to save.
Just before the half-hour mark, Scott wriggled free of his marker to send a left-footed shot into the gloves of the ‘keeper and, as the opening period came to a conclusion, both the winger and Farrell fired over from long-range. In between, Smith made a good save, beating down a 20-yard strike before gathering the loose ball. Johnson’s thoughts on the first half echoed those from Duncan following the Gillingham draw.
“We kept the ball really well, but it was where we did it that disappointed me slightly,” he explained. “We kept it a lot in front of their players, which is quite easy, but as soon as we got into the final third everything was a bit rushed and panicky. We spoke at half-time about how composed we can be in that final third, and in the second half I think we did that. A couple of times we got in and linked a few passes together to create chances, so that was good.”
Southend actually began the second period with some good movement and they warmed the ‘keeper’s palms on a couple of occasions. First Cotton had the opportunity to drill goalwards from Jason Williams’ slide-rule pass and then, on the hour, Scott fired at the shotstopper from 25 yards out after more good work from the front-man.
Cotton and Scott had switched flanks to create those opening, and the fluidity of the front three was another aspect that Johnson discussed after the match: “With Nico, Brandon and Freddie as a front three playing around Jason, we looked really dangerous. One thing we spoke to them about in the week was rotation and that fact that Freddie doesn’t have to stay in the middle. He can come and drift out and Brandon or Nico can go in there, so they can all interchange.”
Before the Shrimpers could deliver the telling blow, they needed to be on their defensive mettle. Farrell, Daniel King and Daniel Matsuzaka all made important interventions, whilst composed schoolboy Sonny Coutts continued to impress. When that quartet, plus raiding full-back Jordan Williams, were evaded, Dagenham could not beat Smith.
The recent addition to the England U18s squad watched a couple of mid-range efforts whistle past the frame of his goal midway through the half, but he came into his own in the 78th minute as he anticipated well to clear from the toes of a forward. Two minutes later he made a superb save, clawing away a close-range effort to keep the scoreline 0-0.
“Ted’s an excellent captain. He’s really easy to talk to, he talks to the boys and he’s a brilliant goalkeeper. He commands his area really well and he made some great saves today. Just in the time since I’ve come in this year I’ve seen that his decision making has got a lot better; that’s been superb in the last couple of weeks, if not months,” said Johnson.
Southend took full advantage of their skipper’s heroics to edge ahead in the 81st minute. Moving forward quickly, Jason Williams won a flick-on before Scott helped the ball into the path of Cotton, who made no mistake with an assured finish from twelve yards out.
Johnson admitted that it was a fine way for the flying winger to mark his return to the side: “Nico’s been upset that he’s been sitting in that gym every Saturday, so I’m really pleased for him that’s he’s back and he’s a massive attribute to the team. He’s effective going forwards, he took his goal really well and I personally like him as a number 10, where he can excel as an attacking midfield player.”
Southend grew visibly in confidence and Jason Williams soon connected fiercely with a Scott centre that was deflected over by a defender. If he could net on that occasion, there was no stopping him from notching in the closing seconds as Farrell’s free-kick found Cotton and, when his strike was cleared off the line, the striker swooped to score.
“The one thing that boy can do is finish; 6 in 6 is some record for a forward. I don’t think he had the best game today; he was quite heavily-marked by the two centre-halves and, although he dealt with it quite well, he looks most dangerous when he comes off and drops a pass off in midfield. That’s when he can run in behind, because he creates the space for himself. But he took the goal really well and he keeps scoring, so we can’t complain,” Johnson concluded.
Next weekend, Southend return to Youth Alliance Cup action with a trip to Colchester United. Both Essex rivals won their opening Group Four encounters, so the clubs’ first competitive meeting for over a year is set to be exciting and important in equal measure.
Southend United U18s: Ted Smith, Jordan Williams, Kane Farrell, Daniel King (Ross Johnson, 90), Sonny Coutts, Daniel Matsuzaka, Brandon Scott, Charlie Barlow (Macauley Keaton, 58), Jason Williams, Freddie Gard (Kojo Apenteng, 82), Nico Cotton. Substitutes not used: Harry Norman, Daniel Snook.
Goals: Cotton (81), Jason Williams (90).