Youth team coach delighted with opening day win over Dagenham & Redbridge.
Southend United's youth team coach, Dave Huzzey, was delighted with the manner in which the club's U18 side started the 2015/16 season.
Huzzey, who has just returned from St George's Park, where he began the process of obtaining his UEFA 'A' License, watched Blues beat Dagenham & Redbridge 3-1 at Boots & Laces thanks to goals by Joe Mackenzie, Tom Clifford and Renei Batlokwa.
Mackenzie's close-range finish five minutes before the half-time interval set Southend on their way to securing all three points against the Daggers, and the coach felt that obtaining the lead extinguished any lingering anxiety, as well as the way that second-year duo Batlokwa and Harry Phillips were eased into the encounter.
“I’m really pleased, not only with the result but also with the way the boys handled their first game," he said. "I was surprised because some of the boys looked nervous, especially the first-years for whom this was their first league game. Normally we try to keep a relaxed atmosphere, even though we want to win, but during the team-talk before the game they were a little bit nervous. However, they were massively up for the game and ready.”
“Dagenham had a couple of chances and I think they’ve really come on. They were good today and it was really important that we did get the first goal to settle the nerves. The performance changed after the goal because we relaxed into the game and we were then the better side.”
“We thought that Renei and Harry Phillips weren’t in the game enough for us, and they’re our two most creative players, so we were struggling and, once we’d worked out how to get them in the game by Renei dropping a little bit deeper and getting on the ball, it opened the game up and we were a lot better after that,” Huzzey confirmed.
Blues featured eight first-year scholars during the clash, with Elvis Bwomono, Damani Dias and Alex Clark joining Mackenzie and Clifford in the starting line-up before Lewis Gard, Ben Musselwhite and Imani Matthews entered the fray from the substitutes' bench. Huzzey is excited about how they coped with the demands of U18s football.
“The one thing that we’re pleased about with this team is that they complement each other really well, and that’s the whole eleven and the whole eighteen. Even with the full-backs, Tom Clifford and Elvis, they play inside quite a bit and they link up, so that’s been really pleasing,” he claimed.
“We lost Sonny Coutts with the U21s, which is brilliant because that’s the pathway we want and hopefully a few more will go with the U21s, but the first-years coming in are more than capable of filling their boots. Joe Mackenzie at the back played U18s football last year, and he’s so calm in possession.”
“You can go all around the side; Tom Clifford is excellent in possession and determined to win the ball back when he’s out of possession, and Elvis’ one-v-one skills are class, and you could go through the first-years, but I think they’ve made the side better by giving us different things.”
“We’ve learnt as an Academy that we have to blood them as soon as we can in the youth team so that when it does come to the first game of the season and there’s a majority that are first-years, then they’ve been there and done it before. I think that was massive today, and you could see as the game went on that they had an understanding that they weren’t going to lose and about how competitive they were.”
In the absence of Coutts, Abdul Salami wore the captain's armband, and Huzzey was happy with the way he led the team from the centre of defence. He also believes that the team's preparation in pre-season will stand them in good stead for the upcoming campaign.
“Abdul is the vice-captain and he’s stepped up. He’s the nicest boy, but he’s not afraid to tell the team if they’ve done something wrong, and also he’s a worker. I got here at quarter-past-eight and he was here just after me, getting stuff out of the changing rooms to go and set up. I think that shows the determination of the boy, and I think the team will look up to him because of that.”
“The last two games we played were against Charlton and Brighton, and the difference was that they let us play a little bit whereas Dagenham pressed us, but we’ve had a mix in pre-season where we’ve played against those teams and Fulham but also against Luton. Pre-season was really good, and we went away to Peterborough for four or five days and I think that’s going to help us massively in the long run.”
“I think the fact that they were together 24 hours a day and had to live with each other means they ended up getting on, and this group has made a big bond. You could see today that this is a very together group, and whatever gets said in the group is accepted and they then move on and that’s how we want it to be. The test for us now is when we do lose a game, or it does go wrong, then how are we going to react, but I’m confident that this group will react in the right way,” he declared.