Late, late goal crushes young Blues against Peterborough United.
Southend United U18s suffered late heartbreak as an injury-time goal led to a 2-1 defeat away to Peterborough United on Saturday despite Norman Wabo having given Blues an early lead.
Wabo netted after just three minutes of the Football League Youth Alliance Merit League One clash but Jack Friend equalised for the hosts shortly afterwards before Bradley Maslen-Jones contributed the decisive blow in the fifth minute of stoppage time. The result was harsh on Southend, who travelled to the Nene Park Academy with a depleted squad and did much to quash the memories of a 7-0 defeat at the same venue earlier in the campaign.
Blues were without injured duo Ross Johnson and Sonny Coutts, whilst Daniel Matsuzaka and Brandon Scott have joined Harlow Town and Aveley on loan respectively. Goalkeeper Josh Bexon fell ill on Friday and Southend had drafted in Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Voss to replace him with James Macree’s fitness only rated at 70%. However, injury to Voss in the warm-up meant Macree stepped in at the last moment to play behind debutant schoolboy defender Tom Ripsher.
The focus early on was at the opposite end of the pitch as Blues took the lead with their first real attack in just the third minute. The goal came about at the end of a slick passing move with Harry Phillips providing the crucial through-ball for Wabo to slot underneath goalkeeper Henrich Ravas.
Southend had started well, and they could have doubled their advantage in the sixth minute when Renei Batlokwa found Nico Cotton, but he fired narrowly wide of the left-hand upright. However, the visitors suffered a set-back in the 12th minute when Peterborough equalised as the ever-dangerous Friend converted from close range after a right-wing corner was recycled into the penalty area.
The blustery conditions were making the game difficult to view as a spectacle, with the ball constantly going out of play. Blues failed to come to terms with the wind, often over-hitting forward passes in the first half, and a couple of injuries to Posh players further punctuated the opening period. The half-time whistle arrived with some smart goalkeeping by Macree, coming out of his penalty area to head clear, the final action.
Southend began to settle down after the break and dictate the play themselves, and Joe Bedford was unfortunate to send a 25-yard strike narrowly wide of the right-hand post following persistent play by stand-in skipper Freddie Gard. However, the game disintegrated again and both teams became frustrated with the stop-start nature of the play, leading to cautions for Cotton and an opponent after a 65th-minute fracas.
Cotton saw a fierce strike deflected out for a corner seven minutes later, and Blues sent on schoolboy forward Sewa Marah for his debut twelve minutes from the end as they went in search of a winner. Batlokwa was almost immediately brought down on the edge of the penalty area, but Cotton floated the free-kick marginally over the crossbar.
Peterborough had an opening of their own just sixty seconds later, but a forward snatched at the chance and Batlokwa was guilty of being similarly off-target when the ball dropped over the midfielder’s shoulder and he fired across the face of goal as the match entered stoppage time.
The Blues back-line had rarely been threatened during the second period, with Macree gathering any Posh crosses and second-year full-backs Jordan Williams - in his final game of the season before suspension - and Emmanuel Adeyeye helping to shepherd young centre-half pairing Ripsher and Abdul Salami through the encounter.
Despite that, there was to be late disappointment for the brave Blues side as they conceded an indirect free-kick on the edge of their own penalty area deep into injury time. The eventual strike was deflected, but Maslen-Jones managed to force the ball over the line to spark scenes of wild celebration for the hosts. There was still time for Macree to make a good save at his near post, but Southend failed to restore parity at the end of an improved display.
Southend United U18s: James Macree, Jordan Williams, Emmanuel Adeyeye, Joe Bedford, Abdul Salami, Tom Ripsher, Renei Batlokwa, Freddie Gard, Norman Wabo, Harry Phillips (Sewa Marah, 78), Nico Cotton.
Substitutes not used: Imani Matthews, Tom Clifford.