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Youth: Blues beaten by the Dons

18 February 2014

Under-18's beaten by AFC Wimbledon last Friday

Southend United’s youth team coach Dave Huzzey could not hide his disappointment after AFC Wimbledon inflicted the heaviest defeat of the season on his side at the PlayFootball.Net 3G facility on Friday afternoon.

Blues were playing just their second fixture of 2014, following a 4-2 loss against Dagenham & Redbridge a month previously, and found themselves on the end of a 4-0 reverse against the Dons on the artificial surface. Three second-half goals helped to extend the team’s winless run to seven matches in all competitions and left Huzzey predicting a deep analysis of the encounter.

“I think it will take a while to assess the game,” he said. “We were nowhere near good enough in the second half. I told the boys after the game that I thought it was embarrassing. There were too many bad performances and too many mistakes, especially in the second half. We encouraged Wimbledon onto us. They were quite direct with their play, and we didn’t cope with that at all.”

Despite the lack of competitive activity recently, Huzzey refused to blame any unfamiliarity with the football: “If the boys want to be professional footballers, they’ve got to be mentally stronger than that. It has had an effect on these boys, and that’s a problem, not an excuse.” 

“If they’re good enough, and they’re mentally strong enough, they’ll go out and win games if they’re better than their opponents and today, although Wimbledon were decent and direct and they played to their strengths, I still feel that player-for-player, we had the better players in our team, but today they were better than us. There’s a lot to talk about in that changing-room, and a lot to talk about afterwards in the weeks to come.”

Friday afternoon was the only opening at PlayFootball for Blues to fit the game in, but that did at least allow Ted Smith to appear before he linked up with England Under-18s for their international against Belgium at St George’s Park on Tuesday. Smith was called into action early, spreading himself wide at his near post to block a first-minute shot before then parrying out another low attempt after a forward had turned Daniel Matsuzaka.

The central defender was soon involved at the opposite end, when he was presented with a good chance to score from Brandon Scott’s cross. Scott had delivered the ball after a short corner routine that also involved Kane Farrell, and Matsuzaka volleyed over from eight yards out when well-positioned to beat Dons custodian Billy Bishop.

Blues were working their way into the game, and within sixty seconds Nico Cotton also failed to hit the target from close range, sweeping the ball over the crossbar from Jordan Williams’ square pass. Two minutes later, Josh Banton saw an effort charged down from Scott’s far post corner, but Southend lost their impetus.

The hosts had been playing the ball through the phases from the back into midfield, but they couldn’t quite pick out the passes that would allow wingers Cotton and Scott to break clear of the defence, and that eventually proved decisive on 26 minutes when Wimbledon forward Ollie Haines controlled a chipped pass and clinically arrowed the ball across Smith into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.

Southend’s response was good, and forward Jason Williams - who would make his first-team debut 24 hours later against Exeter City at Roots Hall - tried desperately to galvanise his team. Farrell and Scott combined to set Williams free just after the half-hour mark, but Bishop came off his line quickly to deflect the striker’s effort wide of the upright.

Williams started and finished the next move, five minutes later, offloading the ball to Harry Norman initially before darting in from the left flank to connect with Daniel King’s flicked pass. Unfortunately his strike from the edge of the penalty area careered past the right-hand post, and his final chance before being withdrawn at half-time was thwarted by smart goalkeeping from Bishop again following good work from full-back Jordan Williams.

“I don’t think I’m speaking out of line by saying that I thought we were the best team in the first half. We created the best chances. We went 1-0 down, and obviously we haven’t won in a while, so I thought that might affect us quite badly, but it didn’t. We were still well in the game, and when we came in at half-time I was more than confident of going out and winning the game,” revealed Huzzey.

The teenage Shrimpers had a good opportunity to equalise seven minutes after the interval when Bishop spilled Smith’s long free-kick and the ball dropped to Scott. Unfortunately for the winger he had to turn his back to goal to retrieve the ball, and his eventual shot was blocked by a covering defender. Even more cruelly, Wimbledon doubled their lead on the break as Harlen Basker found himself in space 16 yards out and superbly curled his shot into the top right-hand corner of the net with the outside of his left foot.

Six minutes later, and with less than an hour played, Wimbledon were 3-0 up. A shot was deflected out for a corner and, from the resultant flag-kick, Ben Harrison rose highest to loop his header over Smith and into the top right-hand corner. “An early goal from Wimbledon affected us again and, after that, the attitude of the boys was nowhere near good enough,” reflected Huzzey.

There was an opportunity for Southend to reduce the arrears midway through the half when Scott latched onto an under-hit back-pass to centre for Freddie Gard, but he was denied by Bishop and the defence desperately managed to scramble away the follow-up by Cotton.

King also saw a trademark 25-yard effort deflected wide, but Wimbledon continued to get in behind the Blues back-line and, despite being generally wasteful, they capped their display with a fourth goal when Egil Kaja twisted and turned to get the better of Matsuzaka and then squeezed his shot between Smith and the left-hand post.

Michael Martin was one of three second half substitutes, along with Ross Johnson and Macauley Keating, and Huzzey spoke about the trialist as well as voicing his pleasure about finally getting onto the pitch: “Michael has come in; he’s an Irish boy who has trained with us the last week. A few of the boys know him because he used to play at Charlton with them and they spoke highly of him.”

“He did alright when he came on today; technically he’s a very good player. He’s a second-year, so he’s looking to pick up a professional contract and I think he’ll play in a few more games. But probably the only positive I can take from today is that we got outside and actually played in a competitive game.”

Southend United U18s: Ted Smith, Jordan Williams, Kane Farrell, Daniel King, Josh Banton (Ross Johnson, 46), Daniel Matsuzaka, Brandon Scott, Harry Norman (Macauley Keating, 68), Jason Williams (Michael Martin, 46), Freddie Gard, Nico Cotton. Substitutes not used: Emmanuel Adeyeye, Charlie Barlow.

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