Dan Matsuzaka scored the only goal as the under-18's beat Luton Town
Southend United U18s stretched their unbeaten run to four matches as a first-half Daniel Matsuzaka strike gave them a 1-0 victory over Luton Town at Boots & Laces.
Matsuzaka struck at the end of a marauding run forwards in the 12th minute to hand Blues back-to-back victories following last weekend’s triumph over Leyton Orient and leave youth team coach Dave Huzzey delighted: “I’m really pleased. It wasn’t dissimilar to last week; our game-management was excellent again,” he said after the game.
“I think, today, we passed the ball for fun. Everyone was really comfortable in possession. Our philosophy is about playing it out from the back and playing through the thirds, and today summed that up because that’s exactly what we did,” he added.
Kane Farrell returned to the starting line-up in place of Emmanuel Adeyeye and, after both teams took some time to adapt to the blustery conditions in southeast Essex, the left-back had the first shot of the game in the eighth minute when he fired wide of the left-hand post. Brandon Scott then dribbled the ball in from the right flank before miscuing his strike into the goalkeeper’s gloves from 20 yards out.
Those efforts had already proved that Southend were settling well, and that was confirmed when Matsuzaka strolled up from the centre of the defence to net the game’s only goal. The first-year scholar confidently brought the ball forwards before offloading to Jack Bridge on the left-hand side, and the playmaker advanced himself before cutting the ball back from the byeline for Matsuzaka to convert from close range.
The belief with which all three centre-halves used played was a feature of the fixture, and Huzzey was delighted to see his young charge net his fourth goal of the campaign in such circumstances: “Dan scored the goal as a centre-half and we allow that to happen. We have a rotation so that when Dan or Sonny or Josh step out, someone has to sit, but the one thing that all the boys are getting better at is being comfortable on the ball.”
“If your philosophy is to play, they’ve all got to be able to do that and they certainly did that today. I think with boys at 16 or 17-years-old a lot of it is about confidence and they’ve got a lot of that back. We always give them the freedom to play and now it’s started to go right, they’ve started to understand that they can do more and more of it. In the last four weeks, it has gone very well,” he added.
Matsuzaka almost contributed a second within five minutes of the opener, but the goalkeeper got the faintest of touches to Scott’s dinked cross to wrong-foot the centre-back at the far post. Southend were now playing with real panache, and Scott instigated a fine move that ended with Jordan Williams drawing the ball back for Bridge to fire narrowly over.
On 24 minutes, there was almost a debut goal for midfielder Joe Bedford. Handed his first start against the Hatters, the 16-year-old latched onto Nico Cotton’s short corner before driving the ball narrowly over the crossbar. Blues kept the tempo high, and Jason Williams fired across the face of goal as he sought to double the hosts’ advantage in the 27th minute.
The Shrimpers were dealt a blow seven minutes before the break when Matsuzaka was forced off the field requiring stitches to a cheek wound, and for a short while they came under pressure. Josh Bexton in goal had been largely untroubled, but he was required to parry out a near-post corner three minutes before the break. Normal service was resumed in stoppage time, though, when Bridge’s free-kick was tipped around the base of the upright after Bedford had been upended 25 yards out.
The dominance of the first half dissipated a little after the interval, but Luton were initially restricted to set-piece opportunities at the beginning of the second period. Harry Norman read a curling free-kick expertly and timed his sliding block to perfection in the 54th minute, and sixty seconds later a right-wing cross was nodded just over the crossbar by a Town attacker.
Bedford was replaced by Ross Johnson just before the hour mark, and Huzzey was impressed by the debutant: “Joe was excellent. Both Renei last week and Joe this week have come in and looked like more than capable youth team players if not in the top five performers in the team. It just shows you what we’ve got coming through. We’ll hopefully rotate again next week and bring in another boy to start because we want to dip them in. It’s really pleasing for us.”
Blues struggled to make an impact in the second half until the 72 minute when Farrell burst down the left wing before finding Scott, who failed to keep his attempt down. A similar fate befell Jason Williams two minutes later as he climbed to meet Nico Cotton’s corner and headed over the crossbar when well-placed.
There was a narrow escape at the other end when a Luton forward controlled the ball and fizzed it across the six-yard box, but no-one could obtain a telling touch and Southend were able to move forward again. Patient play from Norman, Johnson and Bridge released Jason Williams for a stinging drive that the ‘keeper gathered at the second attempt in the 80th minute, and shortly afterwards the powerful forward smashed over after good work from Farrell and Bridge.
Southend worked hard for the final ten minutes, and there were a number of potentially dangerous set-piece positions earned by the visitors, but Bexton wasn’t called upon to make a save and Blues fully deserved their success, which was completed with the aid of a first clean sheet since November 1st. With just three games remaining this season, Huzzey wants to see his team continue to improve next weekend at local rivals Colchester United.
“It’s completely about carrying our momentum forward now. I asked the boys after the Portsmouth game if we could get a little run going and that was their challenge. We wanted wins, but the draw against Crawley was fine and we got a win last week and another one this week, so it would be brilliant to carry on that momentum and continue to play with confidence,” he concluded.
Southend United U18s: Josh Bexton, Jordan Williams (Emmanuel Adeyeye, 70), Kane Farrell, Harry Norman, Josh Banton, Daniel Matsuzaka (Sonny Coutts, 38), Brandon Scott, Joe Bedford (Ross Johnson, 59), Jason Williams, Jack Bridge, Nico Cotton. Substitute not used: Keith Orenuga.
Goal: Matsuzaka (12).