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Youth: Blues held by Crawley Town

3 March 2014

Youth team in another six goal thriller as they draw 3-3 with Crawley Town

Southend United U18s recorded their second 3-3 draw in six days after an entertaining encounter against Crawley Town in a rearranged fixture at Boots & Laces.

Blues trailed when Harry Anderson gave Crawley the lead in the 21st minute, but stand-in skipper Jack Bridge equalised just before the half-hour mark and Southend looked set to claim their first win of 2014 as Brandon Scott and Ross Johnson made it 3-1 five minutes into the second half. However, goals by Scott Melville and Emmanuel Rowe ensured that the two sides shared the points at the end of a wildly fluctuating contest.

“The one thing we can’t be called at the moment is boring!” exclaimed youth team coach Dave Huzzey after the match. “We just seem to keep conceding late on after getting a nice little lead, and maybe that’s because we get a bit complacent, but I thought the performance was good today and we played the conditions well.”

“Crawley took the lead in the first half, and they probably deserved that because they had a lot of the play in the first 15 to 20 minutes, but the boys reacted really well and got the goal back, and from there we didn’t stop. The boys were a little bit disappointed with the result, as was I, but we’ve got to build on it.”

“It is all about getting players through the first team, and we’re seeing that. We’re also really happy with how the first-years are doing, and the U16s that have come in have done well, so there are some good performances individually. Having said that, we do need to start winning games because we need to teach the boys that as well,” he added.

Southend made just one change to the side that had drawn with Portsmouth at Boots & Laces last weekend as Ted Smith made way for U16s trialist goalkeeper Josh Bexton. That meant that Johnson started again up front as a makeshift striker on a sticky pitch that had taken a lot of morning rain and narrowly passed an inspection.

Bexton was drawn into action as early as the fourth minute, turning a cross inches wide of the right-hand upright before making a comfortable save from a forward following a free-kick nine minutes later. Nico Cotton was inches away from converting Scott’s cross in between those openings for the visitors, and there were further encouraging signs for Southend when Bridge unleashed a shot into the goalkeeper’s gloves from just outside the penalty area.

However, within sixty seconds Blues found themselves behind. Crawley broke down the left-hand side and, when Daniel Matsuzaka attempted to intercept a square pass, he succeeded only in diverting the ball into the path of Anderson, whose low shot was palmed into the bottom left-hand corner by Bexton as he tried to keep it out.

Scott and Cotton combined again on 25 minutes as Southend searched for an equaliser, but the latter’s fierce shot was blocked by a defender and the referee waved away loud claims for a penalty. It would take just four further minutes for the hosts to level. Cotton dropped the ball back to Jordan Williams on the right wing and he chipped a cross in for Bridge to turn home from ten yards out.

It was the playmaker’s tenth goal in Southend colours, and Huzzey was full of praise for the second-year scholar: “Jack will do that when Ted’s not here; he’ll put in a captain’s performance. You know what you will get from Jack every week; if you get him 1v1 there’s no stopping him, and when it’s 1v2 or 1v3 he’ll probably still do it. Some of his movement and some of the skills in his feet today were different class. In my opinion, he needs to make sure that he affects the game for longer periods, but 9 times out of 10 he’ll give you a good performance.”

Bridge’s strike galvanised his side, and Scott was denied by the Red Devils goalkeeper with a superb parried stop following another Williams centre. Then, as the half neared its conclusion, Johnson thumped a header from Cotton’s inswinging corner against the crossbar before both the former Bowers & Pitsea youngster and Bridge were denied at point-blank range with Southend looking to edge in front for the first time.

After the interval, the Shrimpers wasted little time in moving ahead. Less than a minute had been played when Scott netted his seventh goal of the campaign courtesy of a beautifully-weighted strike. Cotton’s corner to the near post was flicked on by Matsuzaka and the ex-Charlton Athletic winger was positioned 20 yards out to expertly control his lofted finish into the top right-hand corner.

Four minutes later, Southend were 3-1 up. Johnson started the move by offloading the ball to Bridge in midfield, and he finished it as well after receiving his team-mate’s inch-perfect pass just outside the penalty area. In a move that belied his unfamiliarity with the role he is currently performing, Johnson skilfully beat a defender to progress into the box before clinically dispatching the ball into the net.

Blues almost moved further clear when a rapid Williams run ended with the ball rolling loose to Cotton, who was superbly denied by the goalkeeper and, in the 58th minute, Crawley instead reduced the deficit as a left-wing cross was nodded down for the onrushing Melville and the attacker stabbed his rising shot past Bexton.

Bridge almost instigated an immediate response, but substitute Michael Martin - on trial for a second match after being released by Charlton - nodded wide of the right-hand upright. That move had been initiated by another replacement, Keith Orenuga, who is trialling at the club after leaving Arsenal. Orenuga, the younger brother of Southend’s youngest-ever player, Femi, had also been at the Centre of Excellence until the age of 15.

Midway through the second period, Jordan Williams placed himself perfectly to cut out a cross at the back post when it appeared likely that Crawley would equalise, and Huzzey referenced a fine game for the full-back, plus midfielder Harry Norman, in his reflections: “Jordan Williams stuck out well, and so did Harry. Jordan has played quite a bit this year; he started off really well and got a call-up to the first-team for a friendly but, although he was consistent, he plateaued a little bit. Today, though, he was really good.”

“I thought Harry was exceptional today; he played the conditions really well and won every tackle. He was very good. He has had to wait for his chance because we’ve had Dan King, Charlie Barlow and Jack Bridge who are all second-years who deserved their chance to play. Now Harry has had a chance and he definitely made an impact today,” he said.

Blues enjoyed a narrow escape when a set-piece flew marginally wide, and everyone was required to defend whilst Crawley forced a succession of corners. Martin and Cotton managed to effect impressive blocks and clear the danger, but the pressure finally told with 14 minutes remaining when the Red Devils hauled themselves level. A break down the left ended in a teasing cross and, with Bexton unable to hold onto the slippery ball at full-stretch, Rowe was on hand to tap in.

Neither side could find a winner late on, with Bexton making a couple of smart saves in the dying seconds to preserve a point for Huzzey’s side. The coach was happy, although his pleasure was tempered by a failure to see out a success having been 3-1 up: “Hopefully against Leyton Orient we can get the win that we need and that we want. However, we only want it if it doesn’t sacrifice the performance. We want to make sure we keep playing well.” 

“I’m not as disappointed today as I was with the Portsmouth game. Game-management is something that we need to work on and look at as individuals, focussing on when we need to go longer and when we need to play it. Today, we managed the pitch well but, when it got to 3-1 and we conceded, we got a bit rushed and starting kicking it longer. Sometimes we need to stick to our own game, even when we concede,” he concluded.

Southend United U18s: Josh Bexton, Jordan Williams, Emmanuel Adeyeye, Harry Norman, Sonny Coutts, Daniel Matsuzaka, Brandon Scott (Michael Martin, 57), Freddie Gard, Ross Johnson (Keith Orenuga, 54), Jack Bridge, Nico Cotton. Substitute not used: Charlie Barlow, Kane Farrell, Daniel King.

Goals: Bridge (29), Scott (46), Johnson (50).

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