Ricky Duncan's side draw 1-1 with Gillingham
An intriguing clash between Southend United and Gillingham in the Football League Youth Alliance South East Conference finished 1-1 after Jason Williams’ fifth goal of the season was cancelled out by Mahlon Romeo.
Blues’ Youths had looked set to record their third League victory of the season when Williams pounced in the 63rd minute, but Romeo scored at Boots & Laces for the second successive week eleven minutes later to earn the Gills a share of the spoils. Southend’s Head of Youth, Ricky Duncan, felt that it was a fair result.
“I know that if it had’ve finished 1-0 we’d’ve taken it, but I still reckon Gillingham will be the more disappointed with a draw. They created some good chances and posed us a lot of problems, even though we did have a good spell and deserved our goal,” he said.
“They surprised us a little with the way that they played. We expected their game-plan to be to push us back and pressurise us, but instead they let us have a lot of time on the ball in our defensive third. That meant we had additional time to make decisions, and what we have to work on is making sure that, when we are faced with that type of situation, we make the right decisions.”
Duncan was dealt a blow when Jack Bridge was ruled out for a fortnight with an ankle injury sustained in training, meaning a return to action for Macauley Keaton who had been unfortunate to miss the first meeting between the sides. Blues were otherwise unchanged from the starting eleven that had triumphed 7-2 over the Kent club in the League Cup.
Both teams began with a positive attitude but it was not until the 14th minute that Brandon Scott delivered the first shot in anger, curling wide of the right-hand post after cutting inside from the left flank. At the other end, Gillingham’s Ross Ibertson went close with an opportunistic flick across the face of goal.
Jordan Williams has shown himself capable of getting into goalscoring positions already in his short career, and he was unlucky not to open the scoring in the 19th minute when he latched onto an inviting bouncing ball on the edge of the penalty area. The full-back’s half-volley flew marginally the wrong side of the right-hand post after good work by Freddie Gard in the build-up.
For the remainder of the half, despite Southend seeing plenty of possession, the visitors possessed the greater threat up front. Smith made a comfortable save from Ibertson in the 33rd minute, but he was beaten sixty seconds later when the forward received a through-ball and directed it against the left-hand upright.
Shortly afterwards the Gills launched a counter-attack when a Kane Farrell strike was charged down, Charlie Webster evading Charlie Barlow’s sliding challenge to sprint clear down the left flank and fire narrowly over the crossbar.
Blues would then enjoy a couple of moments of fortune as the first half drew to a close. Smith spilled a cross but Daniel Matsuzaka nipped the ball off Ibertson’s toes as he was set to pounce and, with their next attack, Gillingham almost took advantage of Jordan Williams laying injured in the penalty area as Webster smashed the ball against the bar.
After the interval, Southend approached the match with a renewed sense of purpose, winning a couple of free-kicks in dangerous positions. Whilst the delivery from Farrell on these early occasions was often a touch wayward, he was soon able to make amends.
Gillingham goalkeeper Luke Nalder would not have realised that the moment would be so important when he failed to keep Jordan Williams’ deflected effort from dribbling out for a corner just after the hour. Farrell’s initial cross was cut out, but he sent the ball back into the box and it dropped kindly for Jason Williams to swivel and turn into the bottom left-hand corner of the net for 1-0.
A minute later Farrell went close to extending the lead with a 30-yard free-kick that Nalder managed to tip away from the top left-hand corner, and Jason Williams also forced the shotstopper into a good save in the 71st minute with a fierce drive.
Southend needed to take greater advantage during this purple patch, and they were punished in the 74th minute when the visitors levelled. Smith had recently made a smart save from a forward when Scott did well initially to win the ball in the right-back position. The winger beat another man and nutmegged a third, but he was robbed as he approached the halfway line and play was switched to the right, where Romeo steered his shot across Smith and into the bottom left-hand corner.
Duncan later explained that his decision to bring on Daniel Snook for Scott was an immediate reaction to the flanker’s mistake: “Brandon had a very good game, but his error led to us drawing the game. He did the hard work, beat one man and nutmegged the next, but he heard a few whoops from the bench and lost concentration, and you can’t afford to do that at any level. He’ll improve.”
Snook almost had an instant impact, driving through midfield to hit a stinging shot into Nalder’s clutches, and Barlow later threaded an immaculate pass into the path of Jason Williams, who drew another good stop from the ‘keeper. But, in the end, Blues were relieved to emerge with a draw after Romeo fired inches wide in stoppage time.
“I felt it was an interesting game,” said Duncan. “We had to change things with Bridgey missing, but we weren’t hindered because Macauley is a different type of player. We’ve still got plenty of options and Ross Johnson, who was on the bench again, will get his chance in time. We’ve got a draw today, it’s a decent result and we’ll go again against Dagenham & Redbridge next week.”
Southend United U18s: Ted Smith, Jordan Williams, Kane Farrell, Daniel King, Sonny Coutts, Daniel Matsuzaka, Brandon Scott (Daniel Snook, 75), Charlie Barlow, Jason Williams, Macauley Keaton (Kojo Apenteng, 54), Freddie Gard (Harry Norman, 71). Substitutes not used: George Burton, Ross Johnson.
Goal: Jason Williams (63).