Southend United U18s registered their second clean sheet of the season in an otherwise frustrating goalless draw against Northampton Town at Moulton College.
Blues have now lost just once in their last seven games, but this was the fourth draw during that sequence and the performance in general failed to build on the dramatic comeback seven days previously against AFC Wimbledon.
In that game Dave Huzzey’s side had scored twice from only three goalbound attempts, but neither team could break the deadlock this time around.
Southend retained the starting eleven from the Dons clash, which meant that Nico Cotton was positioned in the hole behind two forwards in Norman Wabo and George Burton, and it was the second-year scholar thatfired the first shot of the game narrowly wide of the right-hand post in the seventh minute.
That capped a bright opening for Blues, who tested the Northampton goalkeeper for the first time after a quarter-of-an-hour when Cotton rolled the ball into the path of Freddie Gard and he sent a long-range effort into the goalkeeper’s gloves. However, in between those opportunities for the visitors, Josh Bexon had been called upon to brilliantly tip over a fierce shot delivered from inside the penalty area.
Northampton worked hard and they began to get on top, forcing a succession of corners midway through the opening period that Blues dealt with easily. Both Cobblers full-backs liked to push on, and the left-sided of the pair embarked on a marauding run in the 24th minute which culminated in a skidding shot across the face of goal.
It was to be another 18 minutes before the same player threatened to put Northampton in front again, moving purposefully down the left flank before tracking along the edge of the penalty area and drilling his shot at a comfortable height for Bexon to save.
Prior to that move, Blues scented a chance to score themselves when Cotton’s stinging shot from a Wabo knock-down was spilled by the ‘keeper, but the custodian recovered to save in front of Gard. Blues scrambled a 45th-minute free-kick to safety and a fiercely-competitive first half ended goalless, with Huzzey and Academy Manager Ricky Duncan deciding to make a change at half-time by introducing Brandon Scott in place of Burton.
Both teams looked to attack at the beginning of the second period, and it briefly looked as though the entertainment value of the fixture may increase. Cotton again fashioned the early opportunity for the visitors, collecting Emmanuel Adeyeye’s corner and dragging his shot into the side-netting in the 48th minute, and another flag-kick three minutes later, this time taken on the opposite side by Gard, saw the former Luton Town youngster force the goalkeeper into a parried stop.
The Cobblers replied with a forward driving a deflected effort marginally wide of the far post in the 50th minute, but the second half soon replicated the first and chances were reduced to a minimum. Blues were unable to keep possession for long enough to move into the final third regularly, and even a change in formation to 4-3-3 failed to make a difference.
Joe Bedford came on for Macauley Keating, who had started his second match in succession as a holding midfielder, with a little under half-an-hour to go, but it was defender Sonny Coutts who did well on 69 minutes to usher a forward away from goal when it had looked likely that he would test Bexon.
The Kent-based custodian was almost called into action thirteen minutes from time when a winger got around Adeyeye on the Northampton right and squared to an unmarked colleague at the far post, but he chipped wide with Bexon diving to cover the flight of the ball.
Forward Imani Matthews was brought on in place of Wabo for the last eleven minutes of the game as a reward for a string of impressive performances for the U16s, and he showed glimpses of his talent as he attempted to work the Northampton defence, but it was skipper Ross Johnson who went closest in the final moments of the game with a deflected lob that nearly caught out the Cobblers’ keeper.
Instead the ball cleared the crossbar by inches and, despite a tumultuous period of stoppage time in which tempers began to fray and both teams had opportunities to put pressure on through set-pieces, the two teams had to settle for a share of the spoils.
Southend United U18s: Josh Bexon, Jordan Williams, Emmanuel Adeyeye, Macauley Keating (Joe Bedford, 64), Sonny Coutts, Daniel Matsuzaka, Ross Johnson, Freddie Gard, Norman Wabo (Imani Matthews, 79), Nico Cotton, George Burton (Brandon Scott, 46).
Substitute not used: Jordan Lawrence-Gabriel.