Southend United U18s were on the receiving end of a late Barnet comeback on Saturday, but youth team coach Dave Huzzey believed that the 2-2 result was a genuine reflection of the match.
The scoreline mirrored the one recorded at Dagenham & Redbridge seven days earlier but, whereas Huzzey had been disappointed in metropolitan Essex despite George Burton’s late leveller, here he was impressed by his teenage charges as they matched the early-season league leaders.
“In the end, it was a fair result,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll play against a better team going forward than Barnet. In the second half, they proved that, and we found them really hard to handle. However, given the amount of goals they’ve scored this season, I think we defended very well.
“We stayed in the game for a long period at 0-0, and that’s all we asked of the boys. When we’ve played against the better sides in the league, like Barnet, we haven’t stayed in the game long enough. When we played against Peterborough we were nowhere near it and the same when we played against AFC Wimbledon, so that was one of the biggest things today.
“We knew they had played in The FA Youth Cup in the week, so we thought in the last 20 minutes we’d be alright, although that worked against us in the end. In the second half they brought a couple of players on and that changed the game a little bit, but we went 2-0 up and even towards the end of the game we were putting pressure on.
“I think the first goal was the one that killed us really; if we’d’ve kept a clean sheet, we’d have got a bit of confidence. As soon as they scored that goal, they got a bit of belief, and they did deserve a draw in the end,” he confirmed.
“I think it’s a credit to our boys that they scored an equaliser and went off celebrating and after the game they were cheering and smiling and were happy. Our boys were dead, and that was against the team who are top of the table and have only lost one game. In a way, we’ve got to be pleased with that considering where they are in the league and what they done this season.”
There had been little goalmouth incident until Emmanuel Adeyeye’s 51st-minute opener, and Huzzey revealed that keeping penalty area action at a premium was part of the game-plan, with central midfielder Freddie Gard proving to be a key component in the side.
“It seemed like there were two different teams from the first half to the second. In the first half they played through the first third and the second third really easily and got into our midfield area but they couldn’t get that ball in behind, and I think that was due to our defending.
“I think our best player was Freddie Gard for the simple fact that we asked him to play as a 4 - and we have to be careful because when he does that, we miss him as a 10 - but he was class. That’s a credit to himself because he came off at half-time and said that he was a bit unsure where to mark and who to mark because they rotated really well and it was hard for us to know who to go with. In the second half, he was really good in there.
“In the first half they probed but they couldn’t get through. We defended really well, and in the second half we still defended well, but I thought they had a little bit too much towards the end and it looked like they were going to score, especially after they got the first one. It was hard work.
“We had spoken about this game quite a lot and how we wanted it to go. We were happy with it meandering away. We wanted it to be a bit of a dull game because that’s the way we set up. We always knew that if we set up like that we’ve got Brandon Scott, we’ve got Manny, we’ve got Jordan Williams on the other side, we’ve got George Burton and Norman Wabo that can hurt them.
“We knew that if we let the game fade away one of those could pop up and that’s exactly what happened when Manny broke through into their half and scored with a great finish. We might have got a bit lucky with the second with Jordan’s deflected shot or cross falling into Norman’s feet, but one thing I’m always critical of Norman about is that he is reactive instead of proactive, but in front of goal he is proactive and he was there.
“It brought the game to life, but that spurred them on to come at us. Overall, we’re a bit disappointed today but, tomorrow and Monday, we’ll realise that the boys put in a good performance against a very good side and, if Barnet are not at the top of the table at the end of the season, then whoever is above them will win it, as simple as that,” he predicted in conclusion.