Youngsters downed by Pompey in Hampshire.
Southend United U18s provided a glimpse into the future as a squad almost exclusively made up of individuals eligible to play for the team next season were narrowly defeated by Portsmouth at the University of Portsmouth Sports Facilities.
Only captain for the day, Macauley Keating, will not be able to compete for Blues next season from the squad that were beaten by a clinical Liam Sayers finish on the half-hour, as youth team coach Dave Huzzey elected to give a number of schoolboys a taste of what can be expected in 2015/16.
On this particular occasion, the likes of Elvis Bwomono, Tom Clifford and Damani Dias, as well as substitutes Alfie Ripsher, Cameron John and Sewa Marah, were unable to help the team to a victory, but the manner in which all the youngsters conducted themselves and the performance that they put in augers well for the next campaign as 2014/15 drew to a close.
On a beautiful sunny Hampshire afternoon, the two teams took some time to size each other up before Blues grabbed the initiative in the 13th minute by beginning to step up the speed of their play around the Pompey penalty area. Renei Batlokwa and Dias both attempted to slip balls in behind the Portsmouth back-line, but they were unsuccessful with slightly over-hit passes.
Norman Wabo loitered menacingly on the edge of the penalty area on the quarter-hour mark, but he was thwarted by goalkeeper Alex Bass, who raced out of his box to nod clear, and Southend continued to press their opponents back with Batlokwa, Wabo and Harry Phillips particularly impressive as the first half reached its mid-point.
There was a minor warning for Blues when a Portsmouth forward spun onto a though-ball on the left-hand side of the penalty area and fizzed his shot narrowly over the crossbar, but Sayers made no mistake when he created an opportunity for himself in the 30th minute. The attacker tracked across the edge of the penalty area before arrowing his shot across Josh Bexon and inside the bottom left-hand corner.
Southend’s reaction to going behind was superb, and Batlokwa almost equalised immediately when he beat Bass to a long ball from the kick-off, but his effort was blocked by the custodian and Wabo’s follow-up was grabbed by the recovering shotstopper. Phillips then saw a curling strike deflected wide and, when Abdul Salami was brought down in the 34th minute, Clifford’s 30-yard free-kick was held by Bass.
The patience exhibited by Blues was a real feature of their first-half display and, after a lengthy period of possession five minutes before the interval, they suddenly sprang into action with Clifford flicking the ball into the path of Batlokwa and the playmaker half-volleying into Bass’ gloves.
The second half began with a similar pattern emerging. Joe Bedford hoisted the ball over the top for Phillips to chase down, but again Bass’ anticipation served him well as he raced off of his goal-line to block bravely, and the Shrimpers continued to hustle their hosts. Pompey did eye chances on the break, but they were restricted to long-range attempts that failed to concern Bexon.
Perhaps Southend’s best opportunity to equalise arrived just after the hour mark. Wabo did well to win the ball on the right-hand side after persistently pressurising a defender. He then squared for the onrushing Bedford, who had the time to control the ball some twelve yards from goal, but instead swiped a shot over the crossbar when well-placed to make it 1-1.
Huzzey introduced Ripsher in place of Dias, changing formation and operating with wing-backs in an attempt to get back into the game. Bedford almost instigated a leveller by setting up Wabo with a precisely-placed through-ball, but the forward was denied as Bass turned his fierce shot around the right-hand post.
John and Marah were also brought on in the final quarter-of-an-hour as Southend desperately sought the equaliser that their performance deserved. Keating was responsible for creating their best opening, in the 81st minute, when his midfield header set Wabo clear, but the first-year scholar’s strike was deflected wide and Southend concluded the season with a defeat that is tempered by high hopes for the following campaign.
Southend United U18s: Josh Bexon, Elvis Bwomono, Tom Clifford, Macauley Keating, Sonny Coutts, Abdul Salami, Renei Batlokwa, Joe Bedford (Cameron John, 77), Norman Wabo, Harry Phillips (Sewa Marah, 86), Damani Dias (Tom Ripsher, 68).
Substitutes not used: James Macree, Joe Mackenzie.