Ricky Duncan's under-18 side draw 3-3 with Portsmouth
Southend United U18s picked up their first point of 2014, but a 3-3 draw with Portsmouth left youth team coach Dave Huzzey with bittersweet emotions after his team had led 3-0 at half-time.
Blues raced into a three-goal advantage after just 27 minutes courtesy of goals from Brandon Scott, Ross Johnson and Daniel Matsuzaka, but they were left stunned when their visitors delivered a similar blitz in the second period to leave the two sides sharing the spoils in the first match to take place at Boots & Laces for over two months.
“I was really happy with the first half, it was 3-0 and I’d say it was one of our best performances of the season. It was a great reaction to last week,” said Huzzey immediately after the conclusion of the thrilling encounter. “But then something seemed to change in the second half; the boys lacked a bit of determination, they lacked a bit of game understanding and game management.”
“Portsmouth got a goal when Dan [Matsuzaka] went off injured, but that happens and it was still 3-1. You still think we should be fine, and we had chances to score again. We missed those, they went up the other end and at 3-2 and it became a different game. Suddenly our boys were thinking that they hadn’t won since the start of November and that they could lose, and that’s cost us.”
“After the game, the boys are flat, and they are going to be flat. But we have got to look at the positives, and there was a massive positive because the first half was brilliant; the performance and the work-rate, everything about it. The boys understood exactly what I wanted them to do, and it was good. Now we need to go back and find out what happened from the first half to the second and analyse that throughout the week.”
Huzzey named a young line-up with Ted Smith - back following a second clean sheet for England U18s in midweek - and Jack Bridge the only second-year scholars in the starting eleven. There was a return for schoolboy centre-half Sonny Coutts in place of Josh Banton, whilst Emmanuel Adeyeye and Ross Johnson were also restored to the side.
Blues had been defeated narrowly by Portsmouth in both of their previous meetings this season, but Pompey also began the match with a number of first-years on the field, and the opening ten minutes saw the two teams weigh up new opponents. Nico Cotton was a good outlet out wide for the Shrimpers, who did have to deal with a couple of dangerous corners before Smith made his first save, from a rising 20-yard strike, in the 13th minute.
Within seconds, Southend had taken the lead themselves. Bridge led the charge from midfield, stabbing the ball to the right-hand side and makeshift centre-forward Johnson. He got to the bye-line and stood his cross up to the back post, where Brandon Scott nodded home his sixth goal of the season via the underside of the crossbar.
Five minutes later, Blues doubled their lead. Freddie Gard, who impressed in the centre of midfield, burst forward and was tripped on the edge of the penalty area. With regular set-piece specialist Kane Farrell on the substitutes’ bench, Bridge delivered a tempting cross into the heart of the penalty area and Johnson emphatically connected with a thumping half-volley to open his account for the U18s.
“Ross went up front because Jason Williams was called up for the first team, which was brilliant news because that’s what we’re here for, and he worked really well up there. I thought he deserved the game-time. I’d seen him play for the U16s when Luke Hobbs used to put him up there, so he has done it, just not in the U18s. I thought it was the right decision and it’s something we’ve got in our locker now if we need it,” explained Huzzey.
There were a couple of close calls for the hosts as Smith watched a skidding shot evade the left-hand upright and a free-kick was floated inches over the crossbar, but Blues were soon celebrating a third goal. Bridge’s strike from the edge of the penalty area was deflected wide and, from Cotton’s near-post corner, Matsuzaka smashed the ball past a defender on the post and the goalkeeper to make it 3-0.
There was an anxious moment for Southend just after the half-hour mark when a forward angled the ball beyond Smith, but Coutts slid along the line to hook the ball out. At that stage, Huzzey believed his team were in control: “I was delighted with the first half and when we spoke at half-time everyone was happy. Everyone knew we had a game-plan to stick to when we went out after half-time because we knew we’d have to soak up a load of pressure and, for the first 10 or 15 minutes, we did it really well.”
Pompey did start on the front foot, and Smith had to turn a shot around the post in the 50th minute after a substitute flummoxed Matsuzaka and Coutts, but with the defence and midfield working hard as a unit, there were no further scares until the 63rd minute, when Smith make excellent ground to push out a point-blank half-volley from besides his right-hand post.
Ten minutes later, Portsmouth had reduced the arrears. With Matsuzaka receiving treatment for a facial injury, a ball over the top left Smith exposed and one visiting forward squared unselfishly for the other to tap into the net from close-range. Despite the set-back, Blues had an immediate opportunity to restore the three-goal lead when Cotton’s corner bounced invitingly for Johnson, but he sliced over from inside the six-yard box.
That miss became more costly when Pompey made it 3-2 in the 77th minute as a forward finished off a fluid move by guiding the ball low beyond the advancing Smith. Huzzey reacted by bringing on U16s forward Norman Wabo and midfielder Macauley Keating in place of Johnson and Cotton, but Portsmouth’s comeback was complete within ten minutes of their opener when a left-wing centre was forced past Smith at his near post.
Scott could have put Southend back in front with six minutes remaining when he had time to control Bridge’s cross at the back post, but the winger fired his effort across the face of goal, and late set-pieces from Farrell were scrambled to safety as the Shrimpers ended the game more likely to snatch a winner.
Instead, Blues had to settle for a draw, with Huzzey reflecting: “Ross did really well up front, dropping back into midfield when he had to, and Freddie Gard was different class in midfield. He creates loads of chances for us and also intercepts and breaks up play really well, but every single one played well in the first half. Manny came in for his first game in a while, and I thought he was solid at left-back. We’re now going to be giving a chance to the first-years for the rest of the season, and they all stepped up to the plate in that first half.”
“We have got to take the positive that we have got a point on the board because we haven’t had many lately. The negative is that we were 3-0 up, and that’s something we can’t get away from, but I’m looking forward to getting back in again on Monday because we’ve got something to work with. I’ll be badgering everyone to get a game next week now to try and prove that we can do what we did in the first 45 minutes for the whole 90 minutes,” he concluded.
Southend United U18s: Ted Smith, Jordan Williams, Emmanuel Adeyeye (Kane Farrell, 65), Harry Norman, Daniel Matsuzaka, Sonny Coutts, Brandon Scott, Freddie Gard, Ross Johnson (Norman Wabo, 77), Jack Bridge, Nico Cotton (Macauley Keating, 79). Substitute not used: Charlie Barlow.
Goals: Scott (14), Johnson (19), Matsuzaka (27).