Penultimate fixture ends in even draw for young Blues against Leyton Orient U18s.
Southend United fought out a goalless draw with Leyton Orient U18s at Whitbread’s Sports Ground in Woodford in their penultimate Football League Youth Alliance South East Conference fixture of 2014/15.
The result was of more consequence to the hosts than Blues, who were already assured of a spot in the top half of the table and a place in Merit League One when the South East and South West Conferences merge at the beginning of February. However, after last weekend’s 3-1 defeat to Stevenage, coach Dave Huzzey and Academy Manager Ricky Duncan were looking for a positive reaction.
The duo witnessed an impressive rearguard action as Southend repelled a series of Orient attacks, particularly as the home side grew ever more desperate for the goal that might have earned them that vital seventh position in the league table. Sonny Coutts, back from injury to skipper the side in Ross Johnson’s absence, and James Macree, the goalkeeper restored to the starting line-up, both played a crucial role in the 0-0 draw.
Macree was called into action in just the fourth minute of the match, getting down low at his near post to turn the ball out for a corner following a dangerous right-wing cross. At the other end, Freddie Gard looked destined to open the scoring just sixty seconds later when he rounded the goalkeeper after seizing on an under-hit back-pass, but his attempt to squeeze the ball between a defender and the post failed to find the target.
Orient were enjoying plenty of possession and, after a succession of set-pieces, thought they had taken the lead in the 13th minute when a close-range header was powered home, only for the assistant referee’s raised flag to deny them. Blues were working hard defensively, and a collective effort encouraged a forward to shoot into the side-netting at the mid-point of the first half.
Opportunities at the opposite end generally arose when Orient defenders made mistakes, although credit is due to the Southend side for putting the O’s backline under pressure. Brandon Scott was the recipient of a wayward pass along the edge of the penalty area after a quarter-of-an-hour, but he could only drill his shot wide as an early goal eluded both teams.
Macree made a comfortable save to gather a header from a corner just before the half-hour mark and, for all the hosts’ possession, it was Blues who ended the opening period the stronger. Macauley Keating picked out Gard with a slide-rule pass in the 38th minute with the playmaker smashing over from 25 yards and then, in stoppage time, Nico Cotton fizzed an effort across the face of goal when a number of Southend players were waiting for a centre.
The second half was a slow-burner with a looping right-wing cross on the hour that scraped the frame of the goal as it almost caught Macree out representing the first real action. Orient looked to seize on that moment of anxiety, and immediately Keating was required to throw himself in front of a shot before Coutts got in front of an attacker to volley the ball back to his goalkeeper, who showed good improvisation to head away.
Southend responded in the 62nd minute as Scott and Jordan Williams combined on the right to set up Gard for a deflected attempt from the edge of the ‘D’ that meant the O’s custodian had to scramble to his right-hand side. Four minutes later the shotstopper beat George Burton to a through-ball but he succeeded only in picking out Scott, who was thwarted by a brilliant diving header by a defender that prevented his measured chip from going in.
Blues were enjoying their best spell of the match and, seconds after Norman Wabo had replaced Burton up front, Cotton’s impressive left-wing run culminated in a delicious cross that Gard was inches away from converting as he slid into the six-yard box. Within minutes Orient had seized the initiative again and Macree was fortunate when a forward fired over after he had mis-hit a clearance.
The first-year gloveman atoned for his error in the 79th minute when he made a superb save, again at his near post, to beat away a thunderous strike following a short corner routine and, two minutes later, he made another important stop, maintaining his concentration to gather a scuffed close-range effort.
There was no question of either team settling for a point as they continued to trade blows in the closing stages. First Emmanuel Adeyeye set Scott away down the left flank in the 86th minute, but the winger steered his shot wide having darting in front the touchline, then Coutts bravely threw his body in the way of a fierce strike in the opposite penalty area during the final minute of the regulation 90.
In injury time Macree did well to react quickly having dropped a cross, spinning round to dive at the feet of a forward, whilst Scott had a chance to steal a win for Southend when Gard put him clear in the sixth minute of added time. The flanker fired wide again, and that allowed Orient one last attack, which saw a volley from a free-kick fly over. Blues host Watford on Tuesday morning knowing that a draw will keep them in fifth place.
Southend United U18s: James Macree, Jordan Williams, Emmanuel Adeyeye, Joe Bedford, Daniel Matsuzaka, Sonny Coutts, Brandon Scott, Macauley Keating, George Burton (Norman Wabo, 72), Freddie Gard, Nico Cotton.
Substitutes not used: Josh Bexon, Renei Batlokwa, Harry Phillips, Abdul Salami.