Blues youngsters' good form continues with great win over high flying Barnet.
Southend United U18s continued their recent fine form with a third consecutive victory, on this occasion defeating league leaders Barnet 3-0 at The Hive in a rearranged clash on Tuesday morning.
All three wins have come on the road with Blues scoring fourteen goals in the process following this most recent triumph. A George Burton free-kick gave the visitors the lead after just eight minutes and, when Joe Bedford added a quickfire second, Southend were on top. Barnet were thwarted during their best spell in the second half and substitute Norman Wabo sealed the success in the 88th minute of the match.
It was an impressive performance by Southend, backing up an 8-0 victory at Gillingham four days earlier. Experienced pair Daniel Matsuzaka and Ross Johnson returned to the side to face the Bees with Renei Batlokwa dropping to the bench and schoolboy Joe Mackenzie one of three U16s players unavailable due to their studies.
The pattern of the match was established as early as the first minute when Brandon Scott touched the ball inside for Jordan Williams and his dangerous cross was cut out by a defender. Barnet would see plenty of possession but, whenever Blues got hold of the ball they looked threatening, and when Burton’s sixth-minute cross was dropped by the goalkeeper Joe Bedford couldn’t quite turn his shot home.
The hosts, who began the game requiring just four points from their final three matches to claim the Football League Youth Alliance South East Conference title, were afforded a couple of attacking set-pieces of their own in the early stages, but it was a Southend free-kick that provided the opening goal. Burton had shown finesse on Saturday at Gillingham from a similar 25-yard distance, but this time he went for power and blasted the dead ball into the left-hand corner of the net.
Four minutes later, the teenage Shrimpers were celebrating again as midfielder Bedford matched Burton’s tally of three goals in the last two games. Burton was involved in the build-up, releasing Brandon Scott on the overlap down the right flank and his cross from the bye-line was swept home clinically by Bedford from seven yards out to make it 2-0.
A two-goal cushion was useful but it wasn’t decisive, as the Boots & Laces meeting between the clubs earlier this term had proved, and a hungry Southend side went on the hunt for a third goal. Bedford teed up Freddie Gard for a strong 25-yard shot that cleared the crossbar by inches whilst, in the 27th minute, Burton nodded down a Jordan Williams cross at the back-post for Bedford, who saw his drilled attempt blocked.
The Barnet goalkeeper was in danger of becoming overworked shortly after the half-hour mark as Nico Cotton darted in from the right wing to force a fine save at the near post and, after a Gard effort from the edge of the penalty area flew marginally the wrong side of the right-hand upright, Cotton warmed the custodian’s gloves again at the end of a flowing move involving Bedford, Burton and Emmanuel Adeyeye.
The final seconds of the first half could have proved crucial as Southend spurned an excellent chance to extend their lead before maintaining their existing advantage at the other end. Burton’s hard work allowed Cotton to set up Gard for the Shrimpers, but his chipped finish was clawed away and play immediately switched to the opposite penalty area, where desperate defending stopped Bexon’s goal from being threatened.
Blues had played with real freedom during the opening period, but they naturally reined this in during the second half as Barnet pushed forwards. The encounter became edgy and, in the 56th minute, a Bees forward was inches away from connecting with a fizzing right-wing centre. Midway through the half, Bexon made his first real save, diving low to his left to keep out a close-range finish before the ball was scrambled to safety.
Southend were not without their opportunities after the interval and Gard, again, will have been frustrated just after the hour mark when Bedford’s ferocious 30-yard strike was beaten into his path, and he could only slash the follow-up off-target. On 72 minutes, Burton had a chance to seal the win when he was slipped through one-on-one with the goalkeeper, but he was denied by the legs of the advancing shotstopper.
A goal for Barnet would have changed the whole complexion of the game, and Blues had Bexon to thank for preventing one in the 74th minute when he somehow managed to extend himself to smother a point-blank finish just when it seemed as though a Barnet attacker was certain to score. In leaping on top of the ball, he also averted any hopes of a rebound opportunity opening up for the homesters.
Wabo was brought on to replace the tireless Burton shortly afterwards, and his presence was to prove vital in the 88th minute when Southend sealed their success. Gard managed to get hold of the ball just outside the Barnet box and his perfect pass bounced invitingly for the first-year scholar to smash in his eighth goal of the season.
He could have had a ninth, too, but he was denied by a defender getting across to cover when it appeared that he was clear with just the goalkeeper to beat. As it was, Southend were able to see out stoppage time with the minimum of fuss and consolidate their fifth place position in the league table courtesy of a superb 3-0 win.
Southend United U18s: Josh Bexon, Jordan Williams, Emmanuel Adeyeye, Ross Johnson, Daniel Matsuzaka, Abdul Salami, Brandon Scott, Joe Bedford, George Burton (Norman Wabo, 74), Freddie Gard, Nico Cotton. Substitutes not used: James Macree, Renei Batlokwa.