Southend United U18s slipped to their first defeat of the 2014/15 season as Stevenage triumphed 3-1 at the Shephalbury Sports Academy.
Blues dominated large periods of the fixture, but were made to pay for individual errors as Stevenage scored twice inside three first-half minutes and then again early in the second period. Nico Cotton’s goal just before the half-hour mark had given the visitors hope, but Southend were unable to get back on terms at any stage.
The match kicked off half-an-hour late as the teams awaited the arrival of a replacement assistant referee, but when they did get underway it was Blues who got into their stride quicker. Propelled forwards by full-backs Jordan Williams and Emmanuel Adeyeye - who was recalled to the team in place of midfielder Freddie Gard - they possessed an attacking threat down both flanks.
The first opportunity arrived in the sixth minute when Renei Batlokwa retrieved an over-hit Nico Cotton corner and crossed for Norman Wabo, who glanced a header inches wide of the far post. Two minutes later Brandon Scott sent a shot skidding past the opposite, left-hand, upright after good build-up play from Cotton and skipper Ross Johnson.
Unfortunately, despite having enjoyed virtually all the play up until that point, Southend fell behind in the 15th minute following a defensive mix-up between Harry Norman and goalkeeper James Macree. That allowed an attacker to steal in and round Macree before tapping into the net despite the best efforts of Norman to get back.
Two minutes later, Stevenage doubled their lead when Macree hurtled off his goal-line to try and intercept a through-ball ahead of a forward. The custodian tried to grab hold of the ball, but the referee adjudged him to have fouled the onrushing home player and awarded a penalty. Macree was booked for his protestations, but the ultimate punishment was meted out when the spot-kick nestled in the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
Blues were visibly frustrated to have fallen two goals behind, but they channelled their annoyance well and Batlokwa saw a fierce strike deflected out for a corner in the 19th minute. Johnson then thundered an effort goalwards, only to be denied by a brave block by a defender, and Cotton fired inches wide from distance.
Adeyeye almost pulled a goal back in the 26th minute when he narrowly failed to connect with Johnson’s right-wing cross, but Southend did make it 2-1 just two minutes later at the end of a good move. Norman’s outstanding pass was brought under control by Cotton on the right flank and he went around the goalkeeper to slot into an unguarded net.
Stevenage defended resolutely for the remainder of the half having let Cotton get away from the back-line in that attack, and they largely restricted Blues to long-range efforts, including a Batlokwa attempt in the 40th minute. Scott was denied by a superb challenge on the stroke of half-time and Wabo’s persistence failed to pay off when he chased down the goalkeeper, only for the shotstopper to clear in the nick of time.
Wabo also saw a shot diverted off target from Batlokwa’s through-ball shortly after the break, but Blues found themselves 3-1 down five minutes after half-time when an attacker beat the offside trap and squared to a colleague. He flicked the ball goalwards and, despite Macree getting a hand to the ball, he couldn’t keep it out.
Ricky Duncan brought on schoolboy centre-half Joe Mackenzie in place of Daniel Matsuzaka and then introduced a more attacking option in the form of George Burton, who replaced Norman. Burton almost made an instant impression, setting up Wabo for a spectacular volley that the goalkeeper saved, as he had done previously when Williams sent a stinging shot towards the top right-hand corner.
Stevenage had a goal ruled out for offside when a player converted a rebound after Macree had saved a header, but it was Southend who ended strongly as Wabo and Scott tested the goalkeeper and Burton sent a dipping shot just over the crossbar. Abdul Salami cleared a header off the goal-line in the final minute at the other end, and Blues will be looking to cut out any individual mistakes when they host Leyton Orient next Saturday.
Southend United U18s: James Macree, Jordan Williams (Joe Bedford, 66), Emmanuel Adeyeye, Harry Norman (George Burton, 58), Abdul Salami, Daniel Matsuzaka (Joe Mackenzie, 55), Brandon Scott, Ross Johnson, Norman Wabo, Renei Batlokwa, Nico Cotton. Substitutes not used: Josh Bexon, Harry Phillips.
Goal: Cotton (28).
Cautioned: Macree (17, dissent), Salami (45, foul tackle).