Under-18's lose 1-0 in their final game of the league season
Southend United U18s concluded their season with a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Watford in Colney Heath, despite a performance that both Academy Manager Ricky Duncan and youth team coach Dave Huzzey ranked as one of Blues’ best in 2013/14.
Ultimately, Southend were made to rue missed opportunities throughout the 90 minutes, with the hosts taking one of their few chances during a purple patch at the beginning of the second period. “I’ve spoken before in that some games we will lose when we should’ve won and I’ll be happy because the performance was really good and some games we’ll win and we won’t play so well. Last week we didn’t play at our best and we won the game; this week I think we were at our best but we didn’t get what we deserved,” said Huzzey.
“That was down to missed chances and mistakes. Rick has just said that it was one of the best performances of the season, and I think it was. We created loads of chances; in the first half we created three clear-cut chances and in the second half it was nearer six, and we have to put one or two of them away. We should’ve won the game; we were good enough to win the game. We controlled the tempo really well. I’m really happy with the performance, but disappointed about the result,” he added.
Jack Bridge made his 50th competitive appearance for the U18s, with Ted Smith’s return to action for the Shrimpers meaning that he, along with the injured Jason Williams, fell one short of reaching the same milestone. Ellis Brown trialled again after his release by Charlton Athletic, whilst a hip flexor injury meant Sonny Coutts replaced Daniel Matsuzaka at the heart of the defence. Emmanuel Adeyeye stepped in for Nico Cotton on the left-hand side.
The two teams started evenly, with both content to keep possession patiently during the early stages. A Brandon Scott cross in the second minute was hung up marginally too high for Brown to crane his head back and direct an aerial effort on target, and it was not until the 17th minute that the Watford goalkeeper was called into action for the first time to comfortably gather Brown’s effort from a Freddie Gard pass.
A minute later, Gard himself made a driving run from midfield before firing wide of the left-hand upright but, despite Blues exerting a level of command, they were susceptible to the Hornets when they counter-attacked. Midway through the first half, Smith made a routine stop from a shot delivered at the end of a right-wing cross, and the England U18s custodian was also indebted to Coutts after he dashed back to deflect an effort wide following a dangerous run.
Play soon switched back to the opposite end, where Brown was unfortunate not to mark his second game for the club with a second goal. Again Gard was the provider, stabbing the ball through to the front-man, whose effort was scooped around the post by the ‘keeper. Two minutes later, the goalie had an easier time clutching hold of Scott’s curling attempt after the winger had cut in from the left having switched flanks with Adeyeye.
Harry Norman was an important facet of Southend’s patient approach as he provided the pivot from the holding midfielder’s position, helping Blues to spread the ball out to either side. One such occasion, in the 34th minute, saw Ross Johnson almost catch the goalkeeper out with a right-wing cross that threatened to dip inside the left-hand post and required a touch over the crossbar.
Watford’s best period straddled the half-time interval. Five minutes before the break, Smith was required to get the faintest of touches to an angled shot across his bows, and moments later he managed to do just enough to put off a forward as he bore down on goal, the eventual effort being sliced wide.
Straight after half-time, Bridge laid the ball off to Gard but his 25-yard strike – delivered skilfully with the outside of his right boot – lacked the venom to beat the goalkeeper despite it curling towards the top right-hand corner. Unfortunately, only four minutes had passed since the break when Watford went in front as they worked the ball down the right-hand side and an attacker someone squeezed the ball in from an acute angle.
Smith was then brought into action to made a good save and prevent Blues from going 2-0 down as they were temporarily starved of possession, but Southend were soon back in the game and Brown could have scored when he latched onto Scott’s inviting centre on the hour mark, only for the ‘keeper to make a brave stop. Seconds later, Coutts smashed a bouncing ball inches over as he attempted to emulate John Egan’s recent outstanding strike for the first team at Scunthorpe United.
There was an anxious moment for the visitors less than a minute later when Watford beat the offside trap, but Johnson got back to put pressure on the forward, who blasted the ball off target. A change up front saw Ricky Louch replace Brown, but it was Kane Farrell who spurned an excellent opportunity to equalise as he nodded Bridge’s right-wing centre just inches wide of the base of the right-hand post.
Louch could also have levelled with one of his first touches, but he missed his connection when another Bridge delivery looked set to find its intended target, and Josh Banton also marauded forward during this period. The central defender found himself one-on-one with the goalkeeper, who somehow got down to push his shot around the post.
Nico Cotton was brought on in place of Adeyeye, and play opened up to present him with a chance to score six minutes from the end. Norman had initially threaded the ball into the path of Bridge, who was denied by a goalkeeper’s block, and Cotton curled the follow-up wide. The winger then fired narrowly wide from Gard’s lay-off as Blues continued to search for an equaliser.
Gard was replaced by Tom Clifford, an U15s player making his debut, late in the game and this lead to one final opportunity during stoppage time. Farrell’s long throw was flicked on by Banton at the near post but Johnson, pushed up front by the substitution, was unable to turn the ball home from eight yards out and Southend could not extend their unbeaten run to seven matches at the conclusion of the 2013/14 campaign.
“Tom Clifford came on today at left-back. He loves the club and loves coming in and training with us, so he deserved that chance because he’s been performing, not just in his own age group but in the U16s as well, and he’s now had the chance to come up with the youth team. He enjoyed it. He was superb for the last few minutes and he looked more than comfortable. He was more than happy to go on and I’m really pleased for him,” explained Huzzey.
“The first half performance summed up this season, really. I was really happy with the performance in terms of keeping possession in every part of the pitch, even when it’s tight, but we just weren’t finishing. It’s a compliment to us that, after the match, their manager came up to us and said that we wouldn’t be able to buy a goal having controlled the game and had so many chances and not managed to score. If we weren’t creating those chances, I’d have a problem, but we are, and it just came down to individual mistakes or individuals not taking those chances.”
“I’ve loved this season. It’s been a massive experience for me at 23-years-old and I’ve learnt so much just in this first year. I’m so excited about next season now to put in place what I’ve learnt from my first year. I couldn’t have asked to have had a better bunch of lads, and I couldn’t have asked for a better person to learn from than Rick. I’ve learnt from everyone at the club and I’m looking forward to next year,” he concluded.
Southend United U18s: Ted Smith, Ross Johnson, Kane Farrell, Harry Norman, Josh Banton, Sonny Coutts, Brandon Scott, Freddie Gard (Tom Clifford, 88), Ellis Brown (Ricky Louch, 62), Jack Bridge, Emmanuel Adeyeye (Nico Cotton, 74). Substitutes not used: Macauley Keating, Jordan Williams.
Cautioned: Coutts (64, foul tackle), Norman (67, foul tackle).