Blues downed by Stevenage in the Youth Alliance League.
Southend United U18s suffered a 3-1 defeat against Stevenage as they took to the field at Boots & Laces for the first time in six weeks, despite Ross Johnson converting a first half penalty.
Skipper Johnson gave Blues hope when he stroked the ball into the net from twelve yards in the 39th minute to halve the arrears, but a second half spot-kick by Stevenage secured their success with the Hertfordshire club having already netted twice within the opening quarter-of-an-hour to shock their hosts.
Southend were unchanged from the team that had impressively defeated Barnet in midweek, the 3-0 win on that occasion representing a third straight triumph. Midfielders Macauley Keating and Harry Phillips were both fit enough to be restored to the substitutes’ bench and would feature during the second period.
Blues could have taken the lead in the second minute when Nico Cotton crossed for Freddie Gard to loop a header into the goalkeeper’s gloves, but sixty seconds later they were left reeling as Stevenage took the lead. Having worked the ball around on the edge of the penalty area, an attacker wasn’t closed down 20 yards away from goal and the shot was arrowed into the bottom left-hand corner of Josh Bexon’s net.
Three minutes later the away side broke away on the counter-attack and a fierce shot flew narrowly past the right-hand angle of post and crossbar, but Southend appeared equally dangerous when they were going forwards and, after Cotton had bundled Gard’s through-ball past the goalkeeper, he was unlucky to see a defender skirt across to cover on the goal-line.
Even when Gard was forced to go off the pitch for treatment to a head injury George Burton managed to fire a snapshot at the visiting custodian, but Blues were back up to their full complement by the time that Stevenage doubled their lead. This time a forward got the better of Daniel Matsuzaka and latched onto a direct ball down the middle of the pitch to fire into the bottom right-hand corner of the goal.
On a difficult playing surface it was hard for Southend to get their passing game going, although at the mid-point of the opening period Brandon Scott was unfortunate to see his centre fizz marginally too far in front of the onrushing Gard. Blues did have a lucky escape when a similar situation saw the ball fly across the six-yard box at the opposite end, but generally they were on the front foot as the half drew towards a close.
On 37 minutes Scott almost won a penalty kick, but the referee deemed that he had gone to ground too easily and showed him a yellow card for simulation. Two minutes later, when Gard entered the penalty area, he was tripped up as he drove towards goal and the referee pointed to the spot. Captain Johnson stepped up to take responsibility for the penalty and he confidently guided the ball into the corner.
Set-pieces appeared the most likely route to an equaliser and Burton, who had fired an earlier free-kick into the defensive wall, smashed another dead ball over the bar three minutes before the interval. Blues had built up some momentum and, immediately after the interval, it looked as though they might keep up the pressure with Bedford sending Jordan Williams clear with a measured pass, but the full-back was apprehended by the goalkeeper.
However, a scrappy game started to swing in the opposite direction shortly afterwards and only the excellent positioning of full-back Emmanuel Adeyeye prevented Stevenage from making it 3-1 when a forward was picked out at the back post in the 53rd minute. Blues felt that some decisions were not going their way and Cotton and Williams were both booked as the team temporarily lost their discipline.
Burton’s final act of a frustrating game was to flick on a Williams cross in the 65th minute, only to then watch Keating narrowly fail to force home the loose ball as the Stevenage goalkeeper scrambled back to dive at his feet. Norman Wabo replaced Burton, although he was also unable to impose his presence on the match during the final 25 minutes.
Instead Stevenage added an element of comfort to the scoreline with a 78th-minute penalty. An earlier attack had seen a stinging shot smash into the side-netting, but this time a purposeful right-sided run ended with Abdul Salami careering across to bring down the attacker as he got to the bye-line. Stevenage’s skipper stepped up to match Johnson’s feat and convert the penalty.
Johnson, who went as close as anyone to forcing an equaliser earlier in the half when his 20-yard snapshot was gathered by the goalkeeper, was forced to limp off four minutes from time after being the unfortunate recipient of a badly-timed challenge, and that meant Southend had to end the match with ten men.
Stevenage could have added a fourth goal in stoppage time, but Bexon dived to his right to keep out a close-range header and that was the final action of a disappointing morning for Southend, who will now seek to end the Football League Youth Alliance South East Conference season on a high in their final fixtures against Leyton Orient (away) and Watford (at home) in the next ten days.
Southend United U18s: Josh Bexon, Jordan Williams, Emmanuel Adeyeye, Ross Johnson, Daniel Matsuzaka, Abdul Salami (Harry Phillips, 81), Brandon Scott, Joe Bedford (Macauley Keating, 52), George Burton Norman Wabo, 66), Freddie Gard, Nico Cotton.
Substitutes not used: James Macree, Renei Batlokwa.