Blues youngsters go down against the Hornets in Merit League One
Southend United U18s slipped to a disappointing 3-0 defeat away to Watford, losing their 100% record in Football League Youth Alliance Merit League One in the process.
Blues had begun the campaign impressively with a 4-0 victory over Swindon Town in their opening fixture and, having been unfortunate to be pegged back to a 2-2 draw against the Hornets in their final FLYA South East Conference fixture of the season at Boots & Laces less than three weeks previously, they headed to London Colney with a positive mindset.
However, the memories of a 7-2 defeat earlier on in the campaign came back to haunt the Shrimpers, who were undone by two goals in the first half and then the hammer blow of a third early in the second period when a reduction of the interval arrears may have helped them to fashion a different outcome.
Southend named an unchanged starting eleven for the fixture, which meant that right-back Jordan Williams made his 50th youth team appearance, becoming the fourth second-year scholar to achieve that feat this season. Midfielder Macauley Keating was fit enough to be restored to the substitutes’ bench in place of schoolboy Damani Dias.
There was some discussion before the match as to whether the game would be switched to an alternative pitch, such were the conditions on Watford’s favoured surface, but the referee was satisfied that the original venue was playable, and Blues adjusted to the conditions better in the early stages.
Indeed, the visitors could have taken the lead in the fourth minute when George Burton flicked a Williams’ pass into the path of Renei Batlokwa. The creative midfielder was beaten to the ball by a defender, but it ricocheted off Batlokwa’s shins and dribbled past the left-hand post as the first-year scholar attempted to chase it down.
Batlokwa continued to read Burton’s neat touches early on, but Blues were rocked by the opening goal on 13 minutes. Watford won a corner down their left-hand side and, when a fizzing delivery was sent towards the near post, the ball took an awkward bounce past Emmanuel Adeyeye and went in off the right-hand upright.
Southend had conceded in similar circumstances during that error-laden 7-2 reverse, so Academy Manager Ricky Duncan and youth team coach Dave Huzzey encouraged their charges to respond with greater resilience this time around. The initial signs were not good as a forward was allowed to whizz a 25-yard shot past Josh Bexon’s left-hand post but, slowly and surely, Blues began to get control of the ball again.
The pitch was cutting up badly down the middle, and standing water came up along one touchline, but the conditions were the same for both sides and Blues struggled to identify where they could play football. Joe Bedford sent a lofted pass over the Watford defence for Brandon Scott to chase down just before the half-hour mark, but the winger’s side-footed effort lacked conviction and drifted across the face of goal.
Sonny Coutts and Daniel Matsuzaka both slipped over as they attempted to tackle a Watford forward, who eventually fired into the side-netting shortly afterwards, proving that making short, sharp changes of direction was extremely difficult. Southend employed a more direct style, and Batlokwa was beaten to a Nico Cotton through-ball by the goalkeeper in the 34th minute as they sought an equaliser.
Unfortunately, the teenage Shrimpers’ prospects took a further blow four minutes later when Watford doubled their advantage. Bedford was unable to bring a midfield pass under control and a Hornets forward stole possession, dancing clear of the defence to slot the ball beyond Bexon’s left hand.
Burton smashed a late free-kick into the wall and the goalkeeper claimed Bedford’s recycled ball into the penalty area, but Watford could have snatched a third on the stroke of half-time when Bexon made an impressive fingertip save to turn a snapshot from the edge of the penalty area over the crossbar.
Blues brought on Norman Wabo for Batlokwa at the break, and the early signs in the second half were good as Cotton cut the ball back for Burton, who was unlucky to see his fierce strike deflected over. However, the third Watford goal arrived on 52 minutes when a pass was thrust between Matsuzaka and Coutts and a forward clinically curled a 15-yard shot onto the left-hand corner of the net.
Southend almost responded immediately, but Wabo’s header from a Cotton corner was nodded off the goal-line and, just after the hour mark, Burton guided the ball wide after Cotton believed that he had been fouled in the penalty area.
In between those openings, Watford had been thwarted in their endeavour for a fourth goal by Bexon, who turned a difficult bouncing strike around the left-hand post before watching an attacker nod over from the resultant corner. Bexon parried out another attempt at the mid-point of the second period and, a quarter-of-an-hour from the end, he dived to his left to gather a skidding strike besides the base of his right-hand post.
Two substitutes combined on 73 minutes when the recently-introduced Keating prodded the ball through for Wabo, who was denied as he attempted to score from an acute angle by a good stop from the Watford goalkeeper. Blues made another change with Harry Phillips replacing Bedford in midfield, and the closing stages passed without incident, although the damage had been done. Southend host AFC Bournemouth at Boots & Laces on Saturday.
Southend United U18s: Josh Bexon, Jordan Williams, Emmanuel Adeyeye, Ross Johnson, Daniel Matsuzaka, Sonny Coutts, Brandon Scott (Macauley Keating, 71), Joe Bedford (Harry Phillips, 80), George Burton, Renei Batlokwa (Norman Wabo, 46), Nico Cotton. Substitutes not used: James Macree, Abdul Salami.