Under-18's kick-off 2014 with a defeat at the hands of Dagenham & Redbridge
Southend United U18s made a disappointing start to 2014, losing 4-2 at bottom club Dagenham & Redbridge despite taking a sixth-minute lead through Kane Farrell.
The goals from Farrell, his fourth of the season from left-back, and U16s talent George Burton, who grabbed an 87th minute consolation, bookended a frustrating match for the Shrimpers, who had been hoping to build on improved performances against Portsmouth and Gillingham at the end of 2013.
Instead, the visitors found themselves rocked against a team that had picked up just one point from their opening eleven fixtures, first by playmaker Jody’s equaliser, and then by a quickfire double courtesy of Ayo Olukoga and Harrison Tweddell just before the break. Full-back Charlie Yexley added to the advantage midway through the second period, leaving Blues’ youth team coach Dave Huzzey to label the display “embarrassing”.
“I don’t know what to say; we did well for the first 20 minutes but we didn’t take our chances, and we got punished for that. In the end, it was embarrassing, and we know now that we’ve still got a lot of hard work to put in to improve,” he elaborated.
Blues were without Jason Banton and Jason Williams, who travelled down to Plymouth Argyle with the first-team squad, but that allowed Huzzey and Head of Youth Ricky Duncan to run the rule over U16s defender Abdul Salami and forward Norman Wabo. The latter made his first start for the youth team having previously appeared as a substitute last season, and the early signs were encouraging with Wabo and Jack Bridge injecting energy into team up front.
There was an initial attacking verve about Southend’s play, and the opening goal took just six minutes to arrive with the scorer, Farrell, starting the move in midfield. He offloaded the ball to Bridge, who exchanged a one-two with Charlie Barlow on the edge of the penalty area before eschewing the chance to shoot by picking out the marauding full-back with his cross. From close range, it was easy for Farrell to force the ball over the line and make it 1-0.
Two minutes later Brandon Scott set-up Nico Cotton for a driven 25-yard shot that flew inches past the right-hand post and, soon afterwards, Bridge was galloping clear, only for a Daggers defender to dispossess him as he was about to pull the trigger. The chances continued to flow, and Barlow sliced wide after Wabo had teed him up on the edge of the ‘D’ after 20 minutes.
Wabo then enjoyed a couple of opportunities of his own; firstly when he connected with Jordan Williams’ pass only to find advancing goalkeeper Ben Crickmay in inspired form, and then when he raced onto Salami’s inch-perfect pass in the 26th minute. The confident forward looked set to roll the ball beyond Crickmay, but this time he was frustrated by the assistant referee’s flag.
A minute later the hosts were level against the run of play courtesy of an excellent finish, although Blues were partially culpable for their own downfall. Jody managed to curl his 25-yard shot majestically beyond Ted Smith and into the top right-hand corner of the net, but he was afforded far too much space in which to pick his spot and equalise.
Huzzey believed that this was a consistent problem for the team: “The Dagenham number ten was a quality player, and he was excellent on the ball. His goal was superb, but we let him run the game by not closing him down and putting pressure on him.”
Chances continued to arrive for the visitors, and a Farrell corner should have led to a quickfire equaliser for Southend. The pinpoint delivery was met by Bridge at the far post, but ex-Shrimpers shotstopper Crickmay brilliantly turned his header onto the crossbar and out before Daniel Matsuzaka’s follow-up was scrambled to safety and Wabo sent a skidding shot wide.
Bridge was then thwarted by Crickmay after latching onto Smith’s raking goal-kick, but by the time Farrell’s near-post flag-kick had been nodded wide by Matsuzaka in the 43rd minute, Dagenham’s momentum had seen them move into the ascendancy, even if the scoreline did not yet reflect this.
Jody’s 25-yard half-volley was well-held by Smith in the 39th minute, and a couple of moments later the custodian, making his first appearance since signing a professional contract with Blues, got an important touch to Olukoga’s centre with men waiting in the middle. From the corner, Jody sent another sweet strike towards the goal, with Smith required to make a superb full-length save to turn the ball away from the bottom left-hand corner.
Despite the warnings, Southend slipped behind in the final minute of the first half when Olukoga was left unmarked at the back post to convert a right-wing cross. The winger steered the ball between Daniel King and Smith and, sixty seconds later, matters got worse as Tweddell marked his return from injury with a side-footed injury-time finish into the bottom right-hand corner from 15 yards out.
Southend were unable to respond immediately after the break, and Huzzey introduced Harry Norman and Freddie Gard in place of King and Barlow on the hour mark. Bridge fizzed a shot over and then saw another effort cleared following a deflected Wabo shot, but Blues could not find a way past Crickmay. The ‘keeper continued to impress from the ensuing Farrell corner by denying first Bridge and then Wabo, who had thumped a shot goalwards from point-blank range.
The next goal was important and, unfortunately for the Shrimpers, Dagenham scored it in the 65th minute. There should not have been any concerns for the defence about clearing Olukoga’s weighted through-ball, but Yexley easily skirted around Matsuzaka before deftly lifting the ball over Smith and into the bottom left-hand corner.
Smith kept out an Olukoga attempt from a similarly acute angle shortly afterwards as the Daggers tried to add to their advantage, but the match finished on a more positive note for Southend as substitute Burton, who had replaced Wabo on 68 minutes, netted his second goal in as many appearances three minutes from the end by timing his run to perfection and slotting Bridge’s through-ball past Crickmay.
“The U16s did OK,” admitted Huzzey. “Abdul at the back looked good, he showed some good touches and his passing was excellent; Norman got into some good positions but he needs to make more of the chances that come his way, and George has now got 2 in 2 games for the U18s, so you can’t argue with that. But, overall, we weren’t good enough today.”
Crickmay, predictably, had the last word by beating away Scott’s well-struck half-volley, but Blues’ Youths will be searching for a vastly-improved performance when they welcome AFC Wimbledon to Boots & Laces next Saturday, 18th January.
Southend United U18s: Ted Smith, Jordan Williams, Kane Farrell, Daniel King (Harry Norman, 60), Abdul Salami, Daniel Matsuzaka, Brandon Scott, Charlie Barlow (Freddie Gard, 60), Norman Wabo (George Burton, 68), Jack Bridge, Nico Cotton.
Goals: Farrell (6), Burton (87).