Young Blues suffer narrow defeat at Barnet at The Hive.
Southend United U18s were edged out of an entertaining encounter, 3-2, by Barnet at The Hive despite Harry Phillips and Brandon Scott wiping out an initial two-goal deficit.
Blues suffered their first defeat to Football League Youth Alliance South East Conference champions Barnet in four meetings this season, having knocked the Bees out of The FA Youth Cup at Roots Hall and emerged victorious from their last clash at The Hive, 3-0, just six weeks ago. It was Southend’s second defeat in Merit League One following a 3-0 reverse at Watford a fortnight ago.
After that loss to the Hornets, coach Dave Huzzey promised changes and he brought two of the substitutes from that game into the starting line-up in the shape of Phillips and Norman Wabo. Abdul Salami replaced Daniel Matsuzaka at the heart of the defence, but experience was added to the midfield in the shape of Freddie Gard, who took first-year scholar Joe Bedford’s position. Skipper Ross Johnson made his 50th youth team appearance.
Ultimately, Southend were punished for a slow start to the game which saw them trailing 2-0 to goals from Mathew Stevens and Shane Cojocarel after an hour. Smarting from their recent reverses against Blues, Barnet were determined not to lose again, and they worked hard to close the visitors down during a chance-free opening 17 minutes.
Barnet did win a number of corners and attacking set-pieces that Blues dealt with well during that period, and it was the home goal that came under threat at the end of the spell when Scott’s centre was flicked on by Phillips into the path of Gard. His effort was blocked back to Phillips, but he was unable to turn the ball in from the edge of the six-yard box as another defender threw himself in front of the ball.
The hosts soon sprung out of another defensive situation to launch a counter-attack, and a fierce shot was deflected wide of the right-hand post in the 19th minute. Five minutes later the Bees were ahead as another right-wing burst culminated in a centre for the prolific Stevens, who made no mistake in tapping home from close-range.
It was the first time that Blues had trailed to their opponents in the four meetings, but they immediately attempted to bounce back when Phillips set up Wabo for a 25-yard snapshot that flew over the crossbar. Despite that opening, Barnet were on top as they consistently broke up Southend possession and, after a shot had been curled wide in the 32nd minute, Emmanuel Adeyeye did well to cover across and effect an important challenge inside the penalty area to halt an attacker.
Southend’s forays into opposition territory had been sporadic, but they enjoyed a decent end to the first half as Johnson fired over four minutes before the break from Scott’s inside pass and, just sixty seconds later, Nico Cotton was the recipient of Wabo’s flick-on from Sonny Coutts’ through-ball, curling marginally the wrong side of the left-hand upright.
That good play continued into the early stages of the second period and, almost straight from the restart, Freddie Gard set up Cotton for a drilled effort into the goalkeeper’s gloves. Unfortunately Gard’s next involvement, after Josh Bexon had comfortably saved a header from a corner, was to bring down a Barnet attacker, allowing Cojocarel to send Bexon the wrong way from the penalty spot in the 58th minute.
Again Southend’s heads did not go down and, within three minutes, they were right back in the game. Scott embarked on a purposeful run through the middle of the pitch and, when he was apprehended by a defender, the ball fell invitingly for the onrushing Phillips to stroke the ball into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
Blues were swarming forwards and, two minutes later, they could have been awarded a spot-kick of their own when Wabo poked Scott’s pass past the goalkeeper and appeared to be fouled by the custodian. The referee disagreed and the ball rolled past the post. Southend continued to pile on the pressure and, when Gard was fouled, the referee played a good advantage to allow Cotton to fire agonisingly across the face of goal.
The equaliser finally came in the 69th minute. Phillips and Wabo combined on the right flank to win the ball from a Barnet player and set up Scott. The winger teased a central defender, bearing down on his man before darting to the outside and squeezing his shot between the goalkeeper and the right-hand post.
From that moment, the dynamic of the game changed as Barnet responded. Bexon’s goal began to come under threat, but good work from the defence of Adeyeye, Salami, Coutts and Jordan Williams meant that he didn’t have any difficult saves to make. However, the crucial blow arrived eight minutes from time when Kier Dixon raced clear down the left-hand side and dinked the ball over Bexon to make it 3-2.
Blues brought on George Burton in place of Phillips in a bid to restore parity again, but Blues were thwarted in their efforts. Cotton’s 88th minute free-kick was flicked on by sub Macauley Keating for Scott, whose stabbed attempt was deflected wide before, on the stroke of 90 minutes, Wabo volleyed another Cotton set-piece off-target from the edge of the penalty area.
Even in stoppage time Southend went in search of a leveller and a booming Bexon delivery into the opposition penalty area was won by Coutts above the goalkeeper in the area, but the gloveman spun around to gather the loose ball ahead of Keating and Blues were consigned to a narrow defeat. Next Saturday Blues host Luton Town at Boots & Laces as they seek a return to winning ways.
Southend United U18s: Josh Bexon, Jordan Williams. Emmanuel Adeyeye, Ross Johnson (Macauley Keating, 52), Abdul Salami, Sonny Coutts, Brandon Scott, Freddie Gard, Norman Wabo, Harry Phillips (George Burton, 83), Nico Cotton.
Substitutes not used: James Macree, Renei Batlokwa, Joe Bedford.