Southend United U18s bowed out of the Football League Youth Alliance Cup at the Second Round stage following a 4-0 home defeat to AFC Wimbledon.
Blues reached the Area Final of the competition in 2010/11 but Ricky Duncan’s teenage charges have been unable to replicate that performance in recent seasons and, after receiving a bye to the last sixteen of the Southern Section, they will be disappointed to have been beaten in their first outing this term.
Duncan and youth team coach Dave Huzzey named an unchanged starting eleven following the 2-0 victory over Northampton Town on Saturday, although the substitutes’ bench was bolstered by the return of vice-captain Sonny Coutts from injury. Schoolboys Tom Clifford and Damani Dias were also named amongst the replacements.
There was a cagey opening 20 minutes to the tie as both teams tried to size each other up. Wimbledon had the first opportunity in the seventh minute when forward Egil Kaja shot straight at Josh Bexon, and they may have been able to test the Southend shotstopper again on the counter-attack shortly afterwards were it not for Jordan Williams bringing an attacker down.
The full-back was cautioned, and the next chance did not arrive until the 24th minute when Dan Agyei glanced an Ollie Haines cross wide of the right-hand post for the visitors. Wimbledon, who employed a 3-5-2 formation, were proving tough for Blues to break down, and Nico Cotton had the hosts’ first shot of the match sixty seconds later when he fired over following a persistent run through the midfield.
Unfortunately, the Dons took the lead from the resultant goal-kick. Custodian Billy Bishop moved the ball out to the right flank and wing-back Callum Wilson, who delivered a lofted pass over the top of the Southend defence. As Bexon came off his goal-line, there was a misunderstanding that allowed Agyei to nip in and touch the ball into the net.
Southend should have levelled within three minutes. Brandon Scott released Williams down the inside-right channel and, when he pulled the ball back from the byeline, Cotton was unable to get a telling touch. Four minutes later, Blues won a couple of corners in succession, but another Williams cross was punched off the head of Norman Wabo by Bishop at his near post.
Blues were enjoying their best spell of the match, and Williams himself drove the ball goalwards from the edge of the ‘D’ with his left foot, only to find Bishop equal to his effort. Five minutes before the break, central defenders Daniel Matsuzaka and Abdul Salami came up from the back for a Cotton free-kick, but neither was able to force the delivery over the line and Harry Phillips was equally unable to net from a Scott centre.
Scott managed to force Bishop into a parried stop in the final minute of the first half after riding a series of challenges, but Southend were stunned in the second minute of stoppage time when Wimbledon doubled their advantage. Agyei was the goalscorer, holding off two defenders before clinically finding the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
If that goal delivered a blow to Blues’ chances of progressing into the Area Quarter-Finals of the competition, they were set back decisively five minutes after half-time when Wimbledon made it 3-0. Emmanuel Adeyeye conceded a free-kick on the left touchline, and from the deep set-piece, the ball was nodded back across goal for Kaja to convert from close range.
Coutts and George Burton were introduced shortly before the hour mark as Blues briefly mirrored Wimbledon’s formation, but the visitors were full of confidence and should have scored again when Billy Frost found Alfie Egan and he volleyed over. In the 63rd minute, Kaja rattled the woodwork following good work from Agyei and Egan, and the striker eventually made it 4-0 when he sent Bexon the wrong way from the penalty spot after being tripped by Williams.
Skipper Ross Johnson was stationed at left-back as Southend reverted to a back four, and Dias replaced Harry Phillips in midfield on 70 minutes as Blues made their final substitution. Bishop made a superb sliding block to deny Burton at this stage but, although the homesters stemmed the flow of chances at the other end, it was a rare sight of the Dons goal.
Bexon was fully-extended to palm away Frost’s 25-yard free-kick in the 77th minute, but opposite number Bishop had the final say in the stoppage time, preventing Coutts from marking his comeback with a consolation headed goal by turning the ball away on his goal-line. Southend now have little more than 36 hours to recover before hosting Milton Keynes Dons on Saturday.
Southend United U18s: Josh Bexon, Jordan Williams, Emmanuel Adeyeye (George Burton, 57), Ross Johnson, Daniel Matsuzaka, Abdul Salami (Sonny Coutts, 57), Brandon Scott, Joe Bedford, Norman Wabo, Harry Phillips (Damani Dias, 70), Nico Cotton. Substitutes not used: James Macree, Tom Clifford.
Cautioned: Williams (7 - foul tackle), Adeyeye (50 - foul tackle).