Southend United U18s picked up their first away point of the 2014/15 season at Dagenham & Redbridge, but only after George Burton scored a late free-kick to ensure the match ended 2-2.
Following defeats to Stevenage and Peterborough United in their first two matches on the road this term, Blues made the perfect start when Norman Wabo headed them in front after just 13 minutes. However, Dagenham hit back with goals either side of the half-time interval and it was left to substitute Burton to deliver a telling late contribution.
There were two enforced changes to the team that had impressively beaten Cambridge United at Boots & Laces a week earlier as Jordan Williams, who picked up an injury in training, and Macauley Keating, who was required to leave the field against the U’s, were replaced by midfielders Joe Bedford and Harry Phillips. James Macree played in goal ahead of Josh Bexon.
The modifications made no difference to Southend’s early play and they created the first opportunity of the match in just the sixth minute when Brandon Scott brought down Wabo’s pass, only to fire his shot across the face of goal when well-placed. In the 12th minute, Bedford saw a skidding strike deflected wide from a short Phillips corner, but that merely delayed the opening goal by a matter of seconds.
From the ensuing corner, Nico Cotton fizzed the ball in to the near post where Wabo got up between two defenders to angle the ball down past former Southend goalkeeper Ben Crickmay and into the bottom right-hand corner of the goal. After netting his first U18s goal last weekend, the forward only had to wait seven days for his second.
Two minutes later Emmanuel Adeyeye - who had travelled to Cheltenham Town in midweek with the first-team - should have doubled the advantage. Bedford slipped the ball beautifully into the full-back’s path and he delayed his shot long enough for a defender to get back and see the ball out to safety.
It had been a good start by Blues, but Dagenham began to edge into the game and Macree had to make his first save in the 19th minute when the ball was stabbed in his direction at the end of a dangerous right wing run. Southend were being forced deeper into their own half and Macree cut out a couple of crosses before Johnson, deputising for Williams at right-back, nodded a free-kick off the goal-line on 27 minutes.
Within seconds Macree was making good ground to save a shot delivered from the edge of the penalty area and Daniel Matsuzaka then made an important block as Dagenham continued to press. Freddie Gard temporarily relieved the pressure with a long-range effort into Crickmay’s gloves, but the Daggers equalised in the 34th minute when Macree pushed a low shot out and another attacker forced the ball over the line.
Just before the goal, Bedford had gone down injured, and he was replaced by Burton immediately after the strike. Dagenham fired another effort wide just before the break, but Burton almost helped Blues move back in front during first-half stoppage time when his right-wing centre was thumped against the crossbar by Wabo. Phillips attempted to nod in the rebound, but a defender got back to clear.
The second period began with Dagenham back on the offensive. Macree dived full-length to his right to save within three minutes of the restart and Sonny Coutts made a superb sliding challenge on a forward just as he was about to pull the trigger sixty seconds later.
However, Blues were dealt a blow when Dagenham took the lead in the 53rd minute. Coutts this time was considered to have misjudged a tackle and fouled an attacking player in the penalty area and, despite his protestations, the spot-kick was awarded. Macree was sent the wrong way from twelve yards and the Daggers led 2-1.
The match became fractious with Southend feeling aggrieved about going behind. Gard was cautioned for dissent and Burton was booked for a tackle just outside the area but, slowly, Blues began to channel their frustrations in a positive manner. Scott and Cotton began to work the ball into good positions, and Gard became more effective in midfield.
On 71 minutes, Macree made a crucial intervention to keep his side in contention as a long Gard throw was dealt with and Dagenham counter-attacked. There was real danger as a forward advanced on goal with a team-mate alongside him, but the attacker elected to shoot himself and Macree blocked with his legs.
A succession of corners were cleared by the home side but, a little over a minute from the end, Burton was brought down inside the ‘D’ as he attempted to latch onto Gard’s flick-on. The referee awarded the free-kick and Burton himself stepped up to bend the ball exquisitely around the wall and into the net to secure a share of the spoils.
Southend United U18s: James Macree, Ross Johnson, Emmanuel Adeyeye, Freddie Gard, Sonny Coutts, Daniel Matsuzaka, Brandon Scott, Joe Bedford (George Burton, 35), Norman Wabo, Harry Phillips (Damani Dias, 60), Nico Cotton. Substitutes not used: Josh Bexon, Abdul Salami.