Late goals seal a memorable victory for the young Blues against AFC Wimbledon at Boots & Laces.
Southend United U18s returned to winning ways in dramatic fashion as late goals from Sonny Coutts and Damani Dias overhauled Dan Agyei’s first-half opener to seal a 2-1 win against AFC Wimbledon.
Blues had looked set to record back-to-back defeats following last Saturday’s 7-2 reverse at Watford but, against a Wimbledon side that had knocked them out of the Youth Alliance Cup with a 4-0 triumph at Boots & Laces earlier in the season, the hosts persevered and earned their reward in the dying seconds of the encounter thanks to schoolboy Dias’ first goal for the U18s.
Southend did not manage a shot on target in the opening 75 minutes of the clash but, with three minutes remaining, vice-captain Coutts initiated the comeback with a sensational strike. Having helped his team to win a throw-in on the left-hand side, the centre-half remained in an attacking position to receive Nico Cotton’s pass and, after shifting the ball out of his feet, he slammed a shot into the top left-hand corner of the net from 22 yards out.
However, Blues were not finished there. In the sixth minute of stoppage time, they earned another throw deep in Wimbledon territory. Defender Abdul Salami, on as a late substitute to provide height up front, propelled a long throw which was cleared as far as George Burton on the edge of the penalty area.
He beat his man and then delivered a pinpoint centre for Dias, who steered the ball home from besides the penalty spot. The celebrations after that goal showed how much the win meant to the squad as each member threw themselves into a massive bundle but, after the match, youth team coach Dave Huzzey and Academy Manager Ricky Duncan were at pains to stress that, after such a heavy defeat last weekend, this was just the beginning of a long journey back.
The pair made just one change to the starting line-up as largely the same personnel were given the opportunity to atone for a series of individual mistakes against Watford. Brandon Scott dropped out of the side, with Macauley Keating making a welcome return in the centre of midfield, whilst Joe Bedford was fit enough to make the substitutes’ bench. Wimbledon enjoyed the majority of the first half opportunities and played with a confidence gained by virtue of having lost just once since their previous visit to south-east Essex in late August.
A fourth minute shot curled just wide of the left-hand upright from the edge of the penalty and, eight minutes later, another attempt was scrambled away by the Blues back-line following a corner. Southend had seen plenty of the ball early on but, up against an organised defence who were comfortable under pressure and manoeuvred the ball around quickly when pressed, they were unable to make an impression.
A Norman Wabo snapshot from Jordan Williams’ right-wing cross flew wide, but that was a rare moment of retaliation after another Dons attack had seen a shot directed marginally off target. In the 28th minute Wimbledon took the lead through Dan Agyei, who had scored a brace on his last appearance at Boots & Laces. On this occasion a right-wing cross wasn’t cut out at the near post, allowing Agyei to control the ball and then fire it clinically into the bottom left-hand corner of Josh Bexon’s net from close range.
Wimbledon had emerged victorious in their previous last two encounters away to Southend thanks to a 4-0 scoreline on each occasion, but Blues were intent on keeping the visitors within reach this time around and a lovely move involving Keating, who won the ball in midfield, and Freddie Gard, who released Burton on the right flank, culminated in a deflected cross that looped narrowly over the crossbar just before the break.
Despite that opening, Wimbledon still appeared the more likely side to score after the interval. Bexon made the first save of the second period when he turned a glancing header around the right-hand post eleven minutes after the restart, but Blues were also fortunate when the goalkeeper’s punch landed at a forward’s feet in the 65th minute and his pass to a team-mate was back-heeled inches wide of the same upright.
In between, Bedford had replaced Keating and Southend had shown signs of improvement with Ross Johnsoncharging down a clearance and then racing onto Wabo’s return pass, only to then lose his composure and slice his shot high and wide.
In the 70th minute there was another hint of an opening as Wabo met Gard’s cross with his head, but the aerial effort drifted well wide. Coutts made an important interception at the other end to get in front of an attacker and clear the ball at his near post, and that led to Burton’s stinging 75th-minute strike which brought the Dons goalkeeper into action for the first time with a comfortable save.
Blues pressed on, though, and the introduction of Dias and Salami, the latter in an unfamiliar forward role, led to the hosts winning three successive corners. Finally, with time running out, Coutts contributed his second goal of the season to make it 1-1 with 87 minutes on the clock.
Blues still had defending to do, clearing a free-kick and keeping their composure when tempers frayed early in injury time, but they were patient and earned their first success for five games when Dias popped up six minutes into additional time. Next week Southend return to the road with a trip to Northampton Town.
Southend United U18s: Josh Bexon, Jordan Williams, Emmanuel Adeyeye, Macauley Keating (Joe Bedford, 58), Sonny Coutts, Daniel Matsuzaka, Ross Johnson, Freddie Gard (Damani Dias, 77), Norman Wabo (Abdul Salami, 80), Nico Cotton, George Burton. Substitute not used: James Macree. Goals: Coutts (87), Dias (90+6).