Southend United U18s were punished heavily for individual mistakes as Watford triumphed 7-2 over the teenage Blues in London Colney
Blues let in four goals before half-time and three more in the second half to concede seven for the second time this season, and youth team coach Dave Huzzey later declared that the squad would be in on Sunday - and future Sundays - in a bid to rectify the situation.
George Burton and Norman Wabo did get their names on the scoresheet during the second period, but Southend’s unbeaten run of four matches was brought to an abrupt end by the Hornets, who displayed a clinical tendency that has been missing in recent Blues performances.
Southend had drawn with Dagenham & Redbridge, Barnet and Luton Town in their last three games - having led in all three fixtures - and arrived in rural Hertfordshire confident of continuing the run. On an excellent playing surface, a starting eleven containing just one change - Wabo replaced Harry Phillips from the Luton line-up - began well with Burton curling a shot into the gloves of the Watford goalkeeper in the second minute.
The hosts put pressure on Blues whilst not in possession, and after six minutes Josh Bexon had to be alert to come off his goalline and scoop up a through-ball on the edge of the penalty box. At that stage, it was a rare anxious moment and Southend were soon sweeping forward again as Sonny Coutts drove them on from the back. Emmanuel Adeyeye and Burton were also involved in the move before Nico Cotton’s cross was cut out.
Burton and Cotton then combined again as the first-year scholar cut the ball back to his team-mate for a 25-yard shot that was deflected wide. From the ensuing Burton corner, Daniel Matsuzaka’s header was saved, and that led to a quick counter-attack which resulted in the opening goal. The culmination of the rapid break was a wonderful reverse pass that allowed a Watford forward to touch the ball beyond Bexon and inside the left-hand upright.
Schoolboy Damani Dias swiftly replaced Brandon Scott on the right flank and Southend went in search of an equaliser. Adeyeye went close when his off-balance cross threatened to dip underneath the crossbar, but the goalkeeper tipped the ball over and, in the 20th minute, a defender swooped on Wabo as he was about a unleash a shot from Cotton’s slide-rule pass.
Instead it was Watford who scored again midway through the first half. Again Southend were the architects of their own downfall as Adeyeye’s simple pass was miscontrolled by Matsuzaka and that allowed a forward to steal in and fire past an exposed Bexon.
Worse was to follow three minutes later as the Hornets made it 3-0. Adeyeye had managed to get a crucial touch to an angled shot to divert it wide of the post but, when the inswinging corner was delivered into the penalty area, it was not cleared by Jordan Williams at the near post and the ball instead flicked off Freddie Gard and into the net.
Vice-captain Coutts implored his troops to improve during a lull in play, and his words seemed to have an effect on the half-hour when Burton picked out Wabo at the near post and the striker smashed his snapshot into the side-netting. Dias also went close to a first goal for the U18s when his right-wing cross looped off a defender’s shin and bounced on the crossbar but, at the opposite end, skipper Ross Johnson was grateful for a superb Bexon save after he had slipped in possession seconds earlier.
Matsuzaka nodded over from an Adeyeye corner and Cotton saw a fierce volley saved at the second attempt after Wabo had chested the ball into his path as Southend continued to fashion opportunities, but there was to be further disappointment in first-half stoppage-time as Coutts’ back-pass evaded Bexon and the ball bounced invitingly off of the post for a Watford forward to tap home the fourth goal.
The Hornets had plenty of possession early in the second period, but it was Southend who created the first chance as Johnson and Burton moved the ball sharply to set up Wabo. His shot thudded into Cotton’s midriff in a moment that summed up the visitors’ fortunes, and they were soon 5-0 down as the ball was played into an attacker on the left-hand side of the penalty area and he squeezed his shot under Bexon at his near post.
At Peterborough earlier in the season, Blues had lost heart and deserted their footballing philosophy, but this time they stuck to their task and pulled a goal back just before the hour mark when Williams and Dias combined on the right wing to cross to find Wabo. He stabbed the ball into the path of Burton, who made a difficult bouncing finish look easy to net the fifth U18s goal of his career.
Dias then scrapped for the ball on the right bye-line minutes later, but he couldn’t pick out Wabo with a cross and instead Watford restored their five-goal lead when a runner wasn’t tracked down the left flank and he crossed to set-up a devastating back-post finish.
Abdul Salami and Macauley Keating were introduced in place of Matsuzaka and Johnson, meaning that Coutts captained the side for the first time in a competitive fixture. With a quarter-of-an-hour remaining he watched as Southend reduced the deficit again, Williams passing inside to Cotton, who rolled the ball into the path of Wabo. The striker made no mistake, converting his fourth goal in five games by firing past the goalkeeper.
The entertainment continued as Keating made an impact on his return from injury, ghosting in to make an important challenge in the penalty area. Fellow substitute Salami then committed to a robust tackle in midfield that sprung another Southend attack, this time Gard and Williams linking up to find Dias, who was dispossessed as he entered the penalty area.
Unfortunately, Watford had the final word two minutes from time when a forward got goal-side of Salami and the pair tangled. Salami fell on the ball, handling it as he prevented his opponent from bearing down on Bexon, and the referee deemed the defender to have denied an obvious goalscoring opportunity. Bexon was sent the wrong way from the penalty spot to cap a miserable morning for Blues.
Southend United U18s: Josh Bexon, Jordan Williams, Emmanuel Adeyeye, Freddie Gard, Sonny Coutts, Daniel Matsuzaka (Abdul Salami, 66), Brandon Scott (Damani Dias, 13), Ross Johnson (Macauley Keating, 66), Norman Wabo, Nico Cotton, George Burton. Substitute not used: James Macree.