Jack Bridge (2) and Jason Williams score to seal 3-1 win against Leyton Orient
Southend United’s youth team coach Dave Huzzey was delighted to see his side marry a good performance with a positive result as they defeated Leyton Orient U18s 3-1 at Boots & Laces to record their first win of 2014.
Blues had not triumphed since The FA Youth Cup First Round tie against Maidstone United on 5th November, a run of nine matches, but a sixth-minute goal from Jason Williams and a brace by Jack Bridge either side of the half-time interval finally saw the teenage Shrimpers taste success. The result was particularly satisfying after Huzzey had seen the team draw their previous two fixtures 3-3.
“As much as we always say that it is not all about results, I was really pleased to get the victory, more for the boys than anyone,” he revealed after the game. “They needed it to give them a confidence boost, and they deserved it. They’ve deserved it in the last couple of weeks as well, being up by two goals, so it was good to get the win.”
“In the last couple of weeks, sides have been able to get a goal back and get into the game, but I think this week we killed the match really well. Game-management is really important and in the first half, and more importantly in the second half, our game-management was excellent,” he added.
It was fitting that Leyton Orient were the opposition for the success as they had begun Southend’s winless streak with a 4-2 victory in November. The portents had been good for Blues in recent weeks after they had got themselves into winning positions, and they claimed this triumph with the help of two U16s players, goalkeeper James Macree and midfielder Renei Batlokwa, who were both making their competitive debuts for the side.
“I thought James made a brilliant save in the second half from close-range, and he’s another U16 goalkeeper who we’ve signed for next year. There are two with him and Josh [Bexton]; they’ve both come in and done absolutely superbly. Renei, who played in centre-midfield, was different class today. He’s a player that we’re all really excited to work with next year; he didn’t look like an U16s player playing in a youth team game. However, physically, he is and he did get out-muscled, but technically and tactically he’s brilliant,” reported Huzzey.
If the inclusion of Macree and Batlokwa opened a window into an promising 2014/15 for Blues at U18s level, then it was two of the experienced spine of the side that delivered the goalscoring contributions. Bridge had already gone close with a searing strike that flew narrowly over the crossbar in the first minute by the time that Jason Williams opened the scoring, forcing the ball home from close range after a defender had failed to adequately clear Brandon Scott’s right-wing centre.
The forward went close again on 20 minutes after Harry Norman’s pass had been touched into his path by Bridge on the edge of the penalty area, but this time his clean strike was parried out by the goalkeeper. By that point, Macree - who was named as a substitute in that FA Youth Cup clash with Maidstone - had caught the eye with an excellent reaction stop to deny an Orient forward from point-blank range.
Unfortunately, he was unable to do anything about Orient’s equaliser in the 24th minute. A right-wing corner was met by a thumping Sam Ling header from around six yards out and the ball smacked against the underside of the crossbar and down. As Blues defenders frantically attempted to clear the danger, the assistant referee ruled that it had crossed the goal-line.
Southend’s reaction to the equaliser was swift and incisive as they re-took the lead within two minutes. Batlokwa played a crucial role with a typically enterprising run from midfield which culminated in him being brought down 20 yards from goal. With Kane Farrell on the substitutes’ bench, stand-in skipper Bridge assumed the set-piece duties and sumptuously curled the free-kick into the top left-hand corner of the net.
Orient desperately tried to haul themselves level, and Macree made a full-length stop from a low drive on 28 minutes before a stretching forward found himself unable to divert a left-wing centre into the goal just before the break. In between, Jason Williams rifled a shot over from the edge of the penalty area.
The beginning of the second half was more sedate and, apart from a fine piece of defending from Daniel Matsuzaka to snuff out a left-wing Orient attack five minutes after the interval, Southend appeared in control. Their command of the fixture was enhanced on the hour mark when Bridge netted his tenth goal of the season by clinically firing into the bottom left-hand corner of the net at the end of a quick break down the right flank.
“One thing we haven’t lacked recently is goalscoring opportunities, and we have scored goals. We said on Friday that if we scored another three goals in this game, we’d win, and we believed that. Jack has contributed massively with his goals and Jason was in the right place at the right time; that’s not luck, that’s a striker’s instinct,” Huzzey declared.
Bridge could have completed a hat-trick less than sixty seconds later as he linked up with Scott to force the O’s goalkeeper into a full-length save, whilst there were further heroics to come from counterpart Macree midway through the period as he made another fine close-range stop when required to maintain the two-goal cushion.
However, it was Southend who ended the match the stronger. A fluid passing move involving Jason Williams, Nico Cotton, Bridge and substitute Ross Johnson ended with the first-year being denied by some brave goalkeeping and Jordan Williams slicing the follow-up over, whilst another replacement, Keith Orenuga, was also thwarted by some good anticipation by the visiting custodian as he looked to make a favourable impression on trial.
On this occasion there was no sting in the tail with Norman - who Huzzey described as “absolutely superb” - marshalling the midfield, leaving the coach happy to see his side prevail at the end: “We played like a first team would play and I thought we were really good individually. The players all won their 1v1 battles, but as a team they were brilliant as well.”
“In the last three or four weeks when we’ve lost or drawn I’ve been saying that it’s all about the performance, and it is exactly the same today. The performance was brilliant and the game-management was brilliant. That was what we needed to improve on, and we did it today. We didn’t over-play, and we passed with a purpose. I’m really pleased,” he concluded.
Southend United U18s: James Macree, Jordan Williams, Emmanuel Adeyeye, Harry Norman, Josh Banton, Daniel Matsuzaka, Brandon Scott, Renei Batlokwa (Ross Johnson, 62), Jason Williams, Jack Bridge (Keith Orenuga, 75), Nico Cotton. Substitutes not used: Sonny Coutts, Kane Farrell, Daniel King.
Goals: Jason Williams (6), Bridge (26, 60).
Cautioned: Johnson (80, foul tackle).