Young Blues' winning run continues with victory over the Cobblers.
Southend United U18s continued their perfect start to the 2015/16 campaign by recording a fourth straight win, the latest success coming courtesy of a 3-2 triumph at Northampton Town.
Blues made just one change to the starting line-up that had beaten Leyton Orient 3-1 as Dan Walker replaced Norman Wabo up front following a hat-trick in a midweek friendly victory over Sawbridgeworth Town. He repaid the faith of the club’s coaching staff by scoring early in each half and Wabo then appeared off the substitutes’ bench to notch the third goal - his fourth of the season - with 20 minutes remaining.
Twice Southend led by two goals, but they were pegged back by a persistent Cobblers outfit who had themselves won two of their opening three matches. Shaun McWilliams firstly reduced the arrears on 55 minutes and then Ethan Lamptey stroked home a late penalty to set up a grandstand finish that never truly materialised.
There was a slightly delayed start to proceedings, and initially Blues were slow out of the blocks as a quick passing move down the Northampton right-hand side led to an attacker firing across the face of goal from an acute angle inside the opening sixty seconds.
However, that was swiftly forgotten as Southend took the lead in just the third minute. Alex Clark delivered a looping corner to the back post and, with the goalkeeper having misjudged the flight of the ball, a defender diverted it against his own crossbar. Walker reacted quickest to the developing situation, out-jumping his marker to nod in via the underside of the bar.
It was just the start the tall forward required on his first start of the season, and the team grew in confidence as a result. Clark switched flanks with Lewis Gard in the tenth minute, allowing the winger to cut inside from the right and shoot, only for his effort to be charged down. Seconds later, Harry Phillips delivered an accurate cross to the near post that Renei Batlokwa headed over when well-placed to double the lead.
In-between those two openings, Northampton had forced Josh Bexon into a smart near-post stop, and five minutes later he acrobatically leapt to his right-hand side to brilliantly push a curling free-kick around the left-hand upright. It was a sign that the hosts had not been demoralised by the early goal, and for much of the next quarter-of-an-hour, their midfielders controlled the pattern of the game.
There was a moment of concern for the hosts on 19 minutes when diligent work from Clark on the right touchline led to him finding Gard on to the opposite side of the pitch. The first-year playmaker teed up the onrushing Joe Bedford for a 25-yard attempt that flew wide of the left-hand post.
Bedford and Elvis Bwomono were both cautioned close to the half-hour mark as Blues struggled to establish a foothold in the game, but the visitors ended the opening half well. Joe Mackenzie and Tom Clifford initialised a 38th-minute move for Phillips to release Gard, who had strayed narrowly offside, and further impressive build-up from Phillips, who set-up Walker with a clever flick, led to the forward shooting at the goalkeeper a minute later.
Blues took that momentum into the second period, and they made it 2-0 just three minutes after the break. This time Bedford was the instigator, striding through the midfield before picking out Walker’s run with a superb pass. The quick-thinking forward spotted the goalkeeper off his line and exquisitely sent the ball looping over his head from 25 yards out to double his personal tally for the morning.
Within minutes Walker could have had a hat-trick as he controlled Abdul Salami’s pass in space created partially by Gard’s intelligent decoy run on the edge of the penalty area. On this occasion, the former Southend Manor striker’s shot was blocked, and sixty seconds later he dragged another attempt across the six-yard box as he tried to make it 3-0.
Instead of that cushion, the Shrimpers found their deficit halved in the 55th minute when McWilliams scored from a corner. A left-wing delivery was sent into the penalty area and the Cobblers player converted from close-range despite Bedford’s desperate attempt to hook clear on the goal-line.
On 62 minutes, Bwomono made a crucial clearance in a similar position to prevent a forward from being presented with a simple tap-in to equalise, and Southend had to regroup. The introduction of Wabo at the mid-point of the second half had the desired effect, and within seconds of the front-man entering the fray Gard side-footed a Phillips pass into the goalkeeper’s gloves.
Within three minutes, Wabo had restored the two-goal lead himself, controlling the ball and rolling his marker on the edge of the penalty area in one motion before clinically dispatching the ball into the net from six yards out. Southend appeared to be prepared to see the match out with ease, although there was to be some late drama.
Phillips curled a free-kick into the goalkeeper’s gloves on 80 minutes, but there were a few anxious moments remaining when Northampton pulled a goal back from the penalty spot with two minutes left, Lamptey converting from 12 yards following a foul by Clifford. The expected pressure did not materialise, though, and Blues held on to claim the three points for the fourth time in four outings this season.
Southend United U18s: Josh Bexon, Elvis Bwomono, Tom Clifford, Joe Bedford, Joe MacKenzie, Abdul Salami, Lewis Gard, Renei Batlokwa (Damani Dias, 82), Dan Walker, Harry Phillips, Alex Clark (Norman Wabo, 67).
Substitutes not used: James Macree, Ben Musselwhite, Tom Ripsher.