Walker brace continues young Blues' 100% record in the league.
A second successive brace of goals from forward Dan Walker helped Southend United U18s to continue their excellent start to the 2015/16 campaign with a 2-1 win over AFC Wimbledon at Boots & Laces.
The second-year scholar, who sat out the majority of 2014/15 through injury, has set about quickly making up for lost time, and he netted a goal in each half to add to the pair he bagged at Northampton Town last weekend to put Blues 2-0 up after 50 minutes. The visitors pulled a goal back nine minutes later to make for an anxious final half-an-hour, but Southend held on to record a fifth consecutive victory.
Blues named an unchanged starting line-up from the 3-2 win over the Cobblers for their fourth home fixture of the season and, in beautiful late summer sunshine at Boots & Laces, both teams made a positive start to the encounter without either goalkeeper being tested early on.
The first hint that Southend would begin to create opportunities on a regular basis came in the 12th minute when Walker held the ball up and a quick passing move involving Lewis Gard, Renei Batlokwa and Harry Phillips culminated with Phillips marginally over-hitting his intended through-ball for Walker.
Two minutes later, Blues were left holding their heads having rattled the woodwork through set-piece specialist Tom Clifford. Joe Bedford was upended 25 yards from goal, giving the full-back the chance to curl a free-kick against the underside of the crossbar. When the rebound bounced out to Alex Clark on the edge of the penalty area, his searing shot flew narrowly over.
Midway through the first half, Southend struck the frame of the goal for a second time, with Walker this time the unlucky participant. The front-man rolled his marker on the edge of the ‘D’ and then sent a deflected shot against the base of the left-hand upright, with Gard unable to turn home the loose ball when it bounced back into his path.
In the 23rd minute, Walker was denied the opening goal by an offside flag after he had latched onto Joe Bedford’s blocked attempt, but he would only have to wait another sixty seconds to put Blues in front. Walker controlled a long ball forward and held off a defender to dribble around the goalkeeper and tap into an empty net.
At that stage, Southend seemed set to put in another vintage performance, but elements of sloppy play seeped into the game and allowed the Dons to first regroup and then threaten Josh Bexon’s goal. In the 35th minute, the visitors thwacked the woodwork twice in quick succession, first when a long-range attempt cannoned against the underside of the crossbar, and then when a curling strike hit the outside of the left-hand post.
Those moments served as a warning to the Shrimpers that the match was not won, and they could have extended their lead seven minutes before the break when Elvis Bwomono brought the ball forward from right-back and then forced the goalkeeper into a full-length save to his left-hand side. There were no further chances, and Blues sat down at half-time one goal ahead.
Bexon did well early in the second period to adjust his body and turn a skidding shot around the post, but Blues were soon 2-0 up as Walker netted his fourth goal of the season in the 50th minute. The former Southend Manor forward rammed the ball into the roof of the net from eight yards out following a penetrating left-wing run by playmaker Batlokwa.
That should have been the signal for Southend to relax into the game, but within four minutes Abdul Salami had been forced to stick out an outstretched right boot to stop an attacker entering the penalty area and Bexon had beaten away the eventual 25-yard effort.
Wimbledon did halve their arrears in the 59th minute. A chipped ball forward from midfield landed between centre-backs Salami and Joe MacKenzie and left Bexon undecided as to whether to come off of his goal-line or remain in situ. A Dons forward pounced on his opportunity to get between the two lines and loft the ball gently beyond the stranded shotstopper.
Southend tightened up a little and, in the 74th minute, there was a nervous moment as a forward got around Bexon, although the custodian’s positioning forced him wide and the shot, delivered from an acute angle, flew across the face of the goal as a result.
By then Damani Dias had been sent on in midfield to replace Phillips, who had been at the heart of much of Southend’s creative play. Gard and Bedford did well to break down a potential attack on the halfway line six minutes from time, but that was the first-year’s final action before he made way for Ben Musselwhite.
Blues couldn’t break down a resolute Dons defence, but they had just one further difficult moment to negotiate themselves before holding on for a 2-1 win. In the final minute of the regulation ninety, MacKenzie made a crucial near-post block to keep out a fierce shot, and that was enough to preserve Southend’s 100% record and send them to the top of the Football League Youth Alliance South East Conference.
Southend United U18s: Josh Bexon, Elvis Bwomono, Tom Clifford, Joe Bedford, Joe MacKenzie, Abdul Salami, Lewis Gard (Ben Musselwhite, 86), Renei Batlokwa, Dan Walker, Harry Phillips (Damani Dias, 68), Alex Clark. Substitutes not used: James Macree, Imani Matthews, Tom Ripsher.