Blues claim third consecutive victory with win over Cambridge United
Southend United Academy Manager Ricky Duncan enjoyed a successful return to former club Cambridge United as Blues claimed their third consecutive victory with a 2-0 win at the Clare College Sports Ground.
Duncan left the U’s to head back to Boots & Laces in the summer of 2005, and he masterminded a success over his former employers whilst youth team coach Dave Huzzey ran the rule over FA Youth Cup opponents Middlesbrough. In doing so, Duncan claimed a managerial triumph over Mark Bonner, who now coaches Cambridge’s U18 side having previously been in charge of the U9s-U12s at Southend.
Ross Johnson was fit to skipper Blues after missing last weekend’s win over Dagenham & Redbridge, and goalkeeper Josh Bexon, midfielder Macauley Keating and forward George Burton were also restored to the starting line-up. Full-back Emmanuel Adeyeye was unwell, so U16s talent Tom Clifford was handed his first start for the U18s following two previous substitute appearances.
Blues made a bright start to the fixture, but they couldn’t make the most of a couple of early set-piece opportunities and they didn’t threaten the Cambridge goal until the 13th minute when a good short corner routine by Brandon Scott and Nico Cotton led to Freddie Gard seeing a fierce 20-yard strike blocked out for another flag-kick by a defender.
Four minutes later, Southend were in front. The goal came from a familiar source as in-form winger Nico Cotton drifted inside from the touchline to take up a more central location and he arrowed a skidding strike towards the bottom left-hand corner. Despite the Cambridge goalkeeper getting a glove to the ball, he could only palm it into the net and Cotton was able to celebrate scoring for the fourth successive league game.
The hosts looked to respond immediately, and they were prevented from equalising within three minutes by Blues custodian Bexon. A right-wing corner was met by a Cambridge attacker and, after he had powerfully headed goalwards, another home player glanced the ball in a slightly different direction, necessitating an outstanding reaction stop from the former Maidstone United gloveman to turn it round the post.
That was a rare moment of anxiety for the visitors during the opening 35 minutes, and Southend almost doubled their advantage when Cotton collected Burton’s pass and attempted to shoot into the opposite corner to his early goal, only for the goalkeeper to this time push the daisycutter wide. Shortly after the half-hour mark Gard tried his luck from 25 yards, but his curling effort swung narrowly past the left-hand upright.
However, the half ended with the U’s moving into the ascendancy, and defender Sonny Coutts had to throw himself in front of the ball to charge down a close-range effort six minutes before the break whilst another attempt rolled just past the left-hand post as the hosts’ increased movement and neat passing began to cause Southend problems.
Another good move at the start of the second half ended with a forward chipping a reverse pass into Bexon’s gloves, but Blues did have a couple of good moments of their own in the initial quarter-of-an-hour after the restart with a sliding Gard finding himself inches away from Cotton’s teasing left-wing centre and an unmarked Johnson nodding Burton’s lofted cross into the side-netting at the back post.
Cotton was cautioned for his reaction to not winning a free-kick on the hour mark, and for Cambridge that signalled a chance to increase the pressure on Blues. From the resultant free-kick, the U’s burst down the right flank and Bexon was forced to gather a dipping shot at his near post before a right-wing corner was nodded over the crossbar by a forward.
Gard remained a nuisance at the opposite end, and he was unfortunate not to convert Johnson’s pinpoint right-wing delivery in behind the Cambridge defence midway through the half when the home goalkeeper dived bravely at his feet. Instead, set-pieces continued to trouble the Shrimpers, with another back-post corner nodded across the face of goal and bouncing millimetres away from the base of the right-hand post.
Duncan sent on Norman Wabo to pose a different problem for the homesters, and he immediately set up Johnson by cutting the ball back from the right bye-line, but the skipper volleyed over. Blues were back in control, and Gard almost doubled the lead after driving into space and steering his shot wide.
The clinching goal was not long in coming and, on 83 minutes, it was Scott who provided it. The flying winger joined Cotton on seven goals for the season in the process, making a mazy run through the centre circle before exchanging passes with Wabo. That facilitated another drive into the penalty area and a composed finish underneath the goalkeeper to make it 2-0.
Blues saw out the final stages with the minimum of fuss and registered their sixth win in the last eight outings to close the gap on the top four in the Football League Youth Alliance South East Conference once again. Duncan’s charges are now just four points away from those positions and host Luton Town next weekend at Boots & Laces with the opportunity to move just two points away from the third-placed Hatters.
Southend United U18s: Josh Bexon, Jordan Williams, Tom Clifford, Ross Johnson (Joe Bedford, 86), Abdul Salami, Sonny Coutts, Brandon Scott, Macauley Keating, George Burton (Norman Wabo, 77), Freddie Gard (Renei Batlokwa, 82), Nico Cotton. Substitute not used: James Macree.