Late equaliser earns Blues youngsters a point at home to Stevenage at Boots & Laces.
Southend United U18s recorded a 1-1 draw against Stevenage in their final home match of the 2014/15 season as a dramatic late Dan Walker strike earned a share of the spoils.
Blues had looked set to slip to a third consecutive narrow defeat until Walker’s intervention in the final minute of the regulation ninety. Jack Storer had put Stevenage in front early in the second period, but a long Freddie Gard throw-in from the left flank bounced out to Walker on the edge of the penalty area and his half-volley found the bottom left-hand corner of the net with the help of a deflection.
It was no more than Southend deserved on a changeable morning at Boots & Laces and, such was the pressure that they exerted, had the match continued for another five minutes, they may even have snatched all three points. However, Stevenage’s Kieran Best had drawn a fine save from Josh Bexon in the Blues goal and the visitors had fully played a part in an entertaining second period.
Southend again put their faith in youth, with schoolboy full-back Elvis Bwomono beginning his second game in succession and Under-15s forward Sewa Marah handed his first ever start after making a cameo appearance away at Peterborough United a fortnight earlier. The pair, and their team-mates, encountered torrential rain early in the fixture that made play for both sides difficult.
Stevenage threatened first with Robbie Sweeney sending a tenth minute shot goalwards and Bexon, restored to the starting line-up after injury, making a useful save at his near post. Five minutes later, play switched to the opposite end and Renei Batlokwa’s fierce shot was handled, giving Norman Wabo the opportunity to shoot from a free-kick. Unfortunately his set-piece was charged down and the danger was cleared.
The visitors enjoyed plenty of possession, but the Blues back-line, including skipper Ross Johnson and Abdul Salami at the heart of the defence and Emmanuel Adeyeye on the left as well as Bwomono, marshalled their opponents well. Bexon attempted to initiate counter-attacks with thumping goal-kicks, but Stevenage were equally resolute.
In the 36th minute, the Blues finally unlocked their defence with Freddie Gard chipping the ball over the top for Marah to chase down but, just as he was bearing down on goal, he was muscled off the ball by a defender. Another opportunity arose two minutes before half-time, but Johnson’s close-range header was cleared on the goal-line after Salami had flicked on a Gard corner.
That concluded the first half action, although the second period was far more entertaining. It started in end-to-end fashion with Sweeney sliding George Casey in on the right for ‘Boro and Bexon making an important block before Clarke Bogarde denied Batlokwa after Wabo had centred the ball from the right wing.
Storer fired at Bexon from the edge of the penalty area, but Southend responded again in the 53rd minute when Batlokwa rolled a pass into the feet of Marah, only for Bogarde to stand up and save. That allowed Stevenage to edge in front just before the hour mark, Casey’s wonderful reverse pass releasing Storer to stroke the ball into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
Joe Bedford was brought on to replace Marah, placing Wabo in a more central position, and the change almost reaped immediate rewards when the first-year scholar glanced Gard’s cross wide. However, there was danger at the other end when Storer back-heeled for Aaron McArdle and he dragged a shot wide, with the substitute following up that attempt by blasting into the side-netting following a left-wing cross.
Bexon then thwarted Storer on the break, clawing away his chipped effort, before making the save of the match, brilliantly diving to his left-hand side to push out Best’s fierce half-volley. Salami also made a crucial intervention, tracking Storer back to the edge of the six-yard box before timing his tackle to perfection to prevent a second goal.
A Bedford free-kick was stabbed wide by Walker in the 83rd minute, but Blues threw everything forward in a bid to grab an equaliser by changing to three at the back with Harry Phillips replacing Bwomono. It appeared that the move might be in vain when Macaukey Keating and Batlokwa both saw efforts blocked from a free-kick, but that was before Walker’s first goal of the season.
There was still time for Blues to throw the ball into the penalty area in an attempt to grab a winner, but Stevenage held firm and the game ended all-square. Southend now complete their Football League Youth Alliance Merit League One campaign with a trip to Portsmouth next Saturday.
Southend United U18s: Josh Bexon, Elvis Bwomono (Harry Phillips, 83), Emmanuel Adeyeye, Macauley Keating, Abdul Salami, Norman Wabo, Freddie Gard, Sewa Marah (Joe Bedford, 61), Renei Batlokwa, Dan Walker, Ross Johnson.
Unused substitute: James Macree.