Ricky Duncan reflects as young Blues continue their excellent form.
Academy Manager Ricky Duncan identified an ability to adapt to the conditions and the tactics of their opponents as the reason for Southend United’s sixth youth team win in the last eight matches.
Blues triumphed 2-0 at Cambridge United on Saturday morning thanks to goals from in-form wingers Nico Cotton and Brandon Scott, and Duncan was pleased with the display: “I thought we did OK. We looked at the pitch, which is a nice big pitch, especially width-wise, so we said to Josh, who has a great kick, that we wanted to squeeze the play a bit more and get the wide men on the ball off of him, which worked,” he revealed.
“In the first half we did it well, with Nico coming in off the touchline and getting his goal and, when we came in at half-time, I was pleased. I thought we were working the ball quite well, although maybe not passing it as much as we do sometimes, but maybe the game today dictated that.
“With the way the pitch was, it was better for us to get the ball up the pitch earlier and we made our minds up when we saw the size of the pitch that that was what we was going to do, and we did it. In the second half, I thought we were alright until there was a little bit of ill-discipline when we didn’t quite get a decision that we thought we should’ve had.”
If Duncan was disappointed with the initial reaction of the team, he was happier with the way that they then regrouped and made the game safe: “Two or three of the players reacted badly to that and lost their tempers and lost their discipline, and I think that put Cambridge on the up. For quite a spell we were in our own half, defending, and they missed one or two chances at 1-0 that they should’ve tucked away.
“They’ll be disappointed about that, but the good thing about our team is that they kept going. We kept defending and when we introduced Norman into the game with fifteen minutes to go we stretched the play again and I thought we took control again. Once we’d done that, Brandon got in and scored a very good goal for 2-0.
“We hung in there and it was a great goal by Brandon. He’s picked the ball up on the halfway line and driven at them, then he’s played a one-two with Norman which has got him in and he’s driven at them again and buried it in the bottom corner. It was a great way to finish the game off. Cambridge will be disappointed, but on the whole I think we deserved the 2-0 win because of the way we’re playing.”
The result meant that Southend claimed a third consecutive victory and maintained the momentum gained with a 1-0 FA Youth Cup Second Round success at Roots Hall against Barnet and the 4-3 league victory over Dagenham & Redbridge less than 40 hours later at Boots & Laces.
“You can’t knock these kids at the moment; they’re on a decent run and they’re doing the right things at the right times. When they’re under pressure, they’re dealing with it. I thought Cambridge were a handful at set-plays; they were really strong with quite a few big lads and we’ve had to put our bodies on the line to get blocks in, but Tom Clifford has come in today as an U16 left-back and I thought he was outstanding.
“It’s a great learning curve for the squad. Every game is going to set them a different challenge, and that’s what we want. We’ve worked hard on counter-attacking well, and there’s no denying that. We’ve got good quality when we go in behind and we also possess good pace.
“At times in the first half we did pass it around, and we can do that as well. We’ve got a bit of a mixture going on at the moment, and what’s good is that we’re actually playing the teams that we’re playing against; the boys are picking the right options and making good decisions.
“Even during that spell when Cambridge were on top, it only ever looked like they were going to score from a corner or a set-piece. They never really looked like threatening us from open play; it was always about a set-piece or a second phase off a set-piece. Other than that, I thought we contained them quite well and the physical side was definitely there. I thought they were stronger today, but we stood up to it.”
And, just as youth team coach Dave Huzzey had last weekend, Duncan confirmed the squad’s aspirations to claim a top fourth berth and compete in the top Merit Division when the Football League Youth Alliance South East and South West Conferences merge in the spring as well as praising the way that Blues continue to improve as the campaign progresses.
“We’re pushing them all the way because they want to play in the top Merit Division. That’s their challenge, and that’s what they have set themselves. I’m happy that boys are coming in like Tom and they’re showing that they can step in. That’s what I look at,” he remarked.
“You look at Brandon scoring again today and it shows how dangerous we are in possession of the ball. He’s still got to work on the defensive side at times, but he’s getting better. Both he and Nico are starting to understand about tucking in behind and helping out more when we haven’t got the ball, and I think that’s starting to help us as a team. It’s giving us a base to counter-attack from.
“If we keep winning, and we get in the top Merit Division, then great. If we don’t, what I will say is that we’re having a really good season. The boys have turned their season around with good, hard work, listening and understanding. They’ve grown up, and that’s what it’s all about. They’re going to keep on improving for the rest of their careers if they keep on doing that,” Duncan declared.