Young Blues end the season in fifth place after entertaining draw with Watford.
Southend United U18s completed the Football League Youth Alliance South East Conference season in fifth place following a 2-2 draw with Watford at Boots & Laces in their final match of the first portion of the campaign.
Blues fell behind to Michael Folivi’s goal in the 28th minute, but they showed good resilience to fight back thanks first to Freddie Gard’s equaliser and then to Brandon Scott, who slammed the hosts in front early in the second period. A fortuitous leveller for the Hornets by Dennon Lewis ensured that the teams shared the spoils, with Southend holding on to finish above their visitors in the table.
That statistic in itself is no mean achievement after the Shrimpers lost 7-2 in Hertfordshire earlier in the season, and the sides will meet again once more in Merit League One when the South East and South West Conferences merge next month. The new campaign will get underway on February 7th with teams of the calibre of Bournemouth, Plymouth, Barnet and Milton Keynes Dons, amongst others, set to provide testing opposition.
Second-years Jordan Williams and Daniel Matsuzaka were unavailable for Blues, who introduced Abdul Salami and Harry Phillips to the starting line-up. Skipper Ross Johnson also returned to the side at right-back with Joe Bedford dropping to the substitutes’ bench. James Macree maintained his place between the sticks following his clean sheet at Leyton Orient.
Macree’s goal was under threat inside the first sixty seconds as Macauley Keating did well to cut out a right-wing cross, and Watford would continue to enjoy the territorial advantage during the opening half-an-hour. In the 14th minute, Macree made a good stop with his legs to prevent a goal after a neat interchange between the visiting forwards.
When Blues finally pressed forwards two minutes later, Nico Cotton snatched at the chance to test goalkeeper Arie Ammann as he fired George Burton’s chested knock-down over the crossbar from 25 yards out, but Burton did go closer midway through the first period as he attempted to stab in Scott’s cross. The forward managed to force the ball beyond Ammann, although the presence of Josh Wallen on the left upright stopped his shot from crossing the line.
Ammann was called into action after 25 minutes to beat away Scott’s thunderous attempt after he had ridden a challenge in the penalty area but, unfortunately, some sloppy play at the back allowed the Hornets to take the lead three minutes later. Watford’s top marksman Michael Folivi was the scorer, beating Macree with a clinical finish into the bottom right-hand corner of the net after bringing Kunle Otudeko’s pass under control.
Macree then leapt upwards to grab a free-kick as Watford threatened to extend their lead, but Blues slowly came back into the game and Harry Phillips put a defender under pressure to allow Scott to take advantage. He passed to opposite winger Cotton, who flashed his attempt wide from the edge of the ‘D’. Two minutes later Cotton did hit the target from a free-kick, but this time he found Ammann in good form to palm over.
Finally, five minutes before the break, Southend restored parity. Burton made the initial impact, a rampaging run culminating in him squeezing the ball between three defenders for Gard, who got in front of Carl Stewart to sweep the ball into the net from six yards out.
After overcoming an anxious moment deep into first-half stoppage time when a forward raced the length of the pitch before blasting over, Southend took the lead nine minutes into the second period. This time it was their two wide men who combined, Cotton getting to the left-hand byeline before cutting the ball back for Scott to thump emphatically into the net.
Cotton could have made it 3-1 just minutes later as he raced clear, only to drag his shot wide of the far post and, although Blues were on top, at the other end Sonny Coutts was still required to throw himself into what is swiftly becoming a trademark block. Soon attention had switched back to the opposite penalty area once again and Burton, who mis-kicked Johnson’s centre into the grateful gloves of Ammann.
Watford were showing signs of inching back into the game as the clock ticked past 70 minutes and substitute Max Makala set up Otudeko, who pulled his angled shot across the face of goal and, five minutes later, they were level as Dennon Lewis’ speculative effort took a wicked deflection off Coutts and looped over Macree and into the top right-hand corner of the net.
Briefly it appeared that the Hornets had established control of the game and Folivi brought a comfortable save from Macree before the young custodian was fully extended to tip Jacob Cook’s strike around the post. However, Southend hit back in the closing stages and, after Batlokwa’s teasing cross was delivered inches out of the reach of the onrushing Wabo, the substitute striker was unlucky to see his header blocked on the line by Stewart with the teams ultimately unable to be separated.
Southend United U18s: James Macree, Ross Johnson, Emmanuel Adeyeye, Macauley Keating, Abdul Salami, Sonny Coutts, Brandon Scott, Freddie Gard, George Burton (Norman Wabo, 73), Harry Phillips (Renei Batlokwa, 62), Nico Cotton.
Substitutes not used: Josh Bexon, Joe Bedford.