Young Blues grab late victory away at AFC Wimbledon at the weekend.
Southend United U18s concluded the calendar year in victorious fashion with a 3-2 win at AFC Wimbledon as they ended up on the right side of some late drama in south London.
Blues led on three occasions at the King’s College London Sports Ground in New Malden, but twice they were pegged back as the Dons punished individual errors, only for Norman Wabo to snatch a deserved triumph for the visitors just two minutes from the end of the game. Thankfully, this time around, there was no comeback.
Southend made two changes from the starting line-up for the previous match, against Middlesbrough in The FA Youth Cup, with Brandon Scott suspended and Macauley Keating suffering a foot injury in that Roots Hall encounter. Norman Wabo began the game in an advanced position on the right-hand side of midfield whilst Harry Phillips took up a central role. Daniel Matsuzaka played his first league game since late October.
Only three minutes were on the clock when Blues took the lead through an unfamiliar source. Jordan Williams had gone 42 U18s matches without scoring before netting in the Middlesbrough match, but the full-back made it two in two games by driving into the penalty area from the right-hand side and then firing past the goalkeeper from an acute angle.
The Shrimpers controlled the tempo of the play in the early stages, but there was a sign of what was to come just before the quarter-hour mark when sloppiness at the back allowed a Wimbledon forward to get a low shot at goal. Josh Bexon turned that attempt around the right-hand post although, on 17 minutes, the hosts did level when Emmanuel Adeyeye gifted possession to a forward and the custodian could only push a skidding shot in off the same upright.
Both teams were patient in possession, building play up from the back before exploding in the final third, but neither could consistently test the opposition goalkeeper during the middle portion of the first half. Six minutes before half-time Matsuzaka made an important block at one end, whilst Wabo was crowded out when he received George Burton’s centre in the opposite penalty area.
Blues were challenged by their coaching staff to create more opportunities and to be more clinical in front of goal during the second period, and they certainly started to put pressure on the Wimbledon defence early on. In the 53rd minute Nico Cotton curled narrowly wide from 25 yards out, and just a couple of minutes later the winger sliced across the face of goal from a beautifully judged Williams pass.
After 57 minutes, the Dons goalkeeper was required to make a vital double-save to first deny Burton’s left-footed attempt and then push out Matsuzaka’s follow-up. From the resultant corner, Cotton’s cross bounced up invitingly for Sonny Coutts, but he could only divert the ball against the crossbar and Wimbledon somehow managed to scramble it away to safety.
Finally, on the hour mark, Blues edged ahead again. A switch that had seen Burton move onto the right flank and Wabo perform more centrally worked perfectly for the Shrimpers as the two first-year scholars combined to make it 2-1, Wabo bravely throwing himself in front of a defender and the goalkeeper to powerfully nod home from close range.
The dominance that Southend had displayed slowly dissipated as the second period progressed, and an intricate passing move at the mid-point of the half led to a wild strike from a Wimbledon forward that fizzed across the face of goal. Ten minutes later, a chipped cross found another attacker at the back post, but he couldn’t crane his neck enough to direct a header on target.
Skipper Ross Johnson also found himself well-positioned besides the left-hand upright to nod a free-kick off the goal-line during this passage of play, but Cotton proved that Blues remained a threat with a fierce effort that the goalkeeper deflected past the base of the left post with his right foot in the 81st minute.
Unfortunately, four minutes later, Southend were punished as Johnson gave the ball away and a Wimbledon forward picked out his team-mate for a rasping finish into the top left-hand corner of the net from a tight angle to make it 2-2.
Johnson had an immediate opportunity to atone for that error when he met Freddie Gard’s corner, but the ball flew over the crossbar and it was left to Wabo to secure the three points in the 88th minute. Schoolboy substitute Damani Dias was the provider, latching onto Johnson’s precise pass to swing the ball in from the right flank and pick out the run of Wabo, who headed home his seventh goal of the season.
That late effort handed Southend a first win in three games after narrow defeats to Luton Town and Middlesbrough, and provides the perfect fillip ahead of the festive break. Following a weekend off between Christmas and the New Year, Blues will start 2015 at Boots & Laces against Watford in a crucial clash on 3rd January.
Southend United U18s: Josh Bexon, Jordan Williams, Emmanuel Adeyeye, Ross Johnson, Daniel Matsuzaka, Sonny Coutts, Norman Wabo, Freddie Gard, George Burton (Renei Batlokwa 69), Harry Phillips (Damani Dias, 80), Nico Cotton. Substitute not used: James Macree.
Goals: Williams (3), Wabo (60, 88).