Young Blues play better but suffer fourth consecutive defeat.
Southend United U18s produced a much-improved performance away to Milton Keynes Dons, but they were unable to recover from conceding an early goal and eventually returned to Essex having been beaten 3-0.
Blues have now lost their last four fixtures but, perhaps more worryingly, they have failed to score in three of those four outings and Academy Manager Ricky Duncan and youth team coach Dave Huzzey will be working hard to address the situation as they approach the mid-point of a Football League Youth Alliance Merit League One campaign that had started so impressively with victory over Swindon Town.
Southend’s preparations were hit by injuries to both first-year goalkeepers, Josh Bexon and James Macree. Northern Ireland youth international Thomas McDermott was drafted in on loan from Tottenham Hotspur to play behind a back four that featured Sonny Coutts, as captain, in place of Abdul Salami. Joe Bedford and Harry Phillips were also restored to the team, with Dan Walker starting his first match since returning from injury.
Unfortunately the visitors were dealt a massive blow within three minutes of the start of the game as MK Dons took an early lead. With Blues having failed to get out of their own half during that period, it was no surprise when a forward finally jinked through the defence and rounded McDermott to slot into the net and make it 1-0.
The hosts earned another opportunity to score within seconds when an attacker robbed Macauley Keating of possession on the edge of his own penalty area, but on this occasion the forward slotted the wrong side of the left-hand upright. It was not until the 12th minute that Southend finally broke into MK territory with purpose as Norman Wabo made good ground and the ball ran into the path of Bedford, but his shot was well saved.
That opening gave the Shrimpers some confidence and, from a Phillips corner, Daniel Matsuzaka rose to plant a header into the goalkeeper’s gloves from six yards out. However, there remained chances for MK to add to their own advantage and McDermott made a good near post stop before watching a left-wing cross loop against the crossbar and out in the 24th minute.
With their impressive passing game and swift movement up front, MK Dons continued to look menacing but the Blues back-line worked hard to protect McDermott’s goal and Matsuzaka, Coutts and Keating in particular teamed up to crowd out home forwards on a number of occasions. Their hard work was almost rewarded on the half-hour when Bedford slipped Wabo clear at the other end, but the goalkeeper smothered his shot.
As the first period approached its conclusion, Southend suddenly appeared the more likely side to score. Coutts and Renei Batlokwa combined to set up Bedford for a sweetly-struck effort delivered with the outside of his right boot from 25 yards out that dipped shortly after clearing the crossbar in the 41st minute and then, in stoppage time, Walker teed up Batlokwa for a 30-yard chip that drifted marginally wide.
The theme continued early in the second half. Within three minutes of the restart Phillips had watched as his cheeky quickly-taken free-kick caught the MK Dons defence out and shaved the outside of the right-hand post, and that was followed by another set-piece from the first-year playmaker that was flicked on by Keating into the path of Coutts, who volleyed wide of the opposite upright.
Against that backdrop, Blues conceded the second goal. MK broke out from defence and a cross was sent in from the right-hand side. McDermott made a fine parried save to deny the attacker with his first attempt, but the ball dropped invitingly on the rebound to be swept into the back of the net past the unfortunate custodian.
Blues brought on George Burton for Walker immediately, but it was MK who almost grabbed a third as a clever back-heel released a forward, who dragged his shot across the face of goal. It was not long before Blues were pushing on again, though, and a Phillips short corner routine led to Burton glancing a header at the goalkeeper.
Bedford’s final involvement before being substituted to allow Freddie Gard half-an-hour’s worth of action was to arrow Jordan Williams’ pass into the goalkeeper’s gloves, but MK inflicted further misery on their visitors in the 72nd minute when a superb move ended with a majestic curling finish into the top left-hand corner of the net that left McDermott clutching at thin air.
By that time the shotstopper had required a lengthy spell of treatment for a hamstring injury, but he was fit enough to continue and the on-loan Spurs youngster made an excellent stop with his feet to prevent a fourth a quarter-of-an-hour from the end.
Despite the scoreline, Southend continued to play with impressive spirit, and a pass on the turn by sub Nico Cotton in the 81st minute released Wabo, who was unlucky to see his deflected strike bounce on top of the crossbar. Burton then curled a cross in for the striker, whose stabbed finish was pushed out by the goalkeeper, and the game after another Blues attack.
This time fine build-up play saw Burton set up Gard. His close-range snap-shot was turned out into the path of Wabo, who found himself thwarted by a defender. The exasperating conclusion epitomised Southend’s fortune in recent matches, but they must now bounce back in fixtures against AFC Bournemouth and Exeter City.
Southend United U18s: Thomas McDermott, Jordan Williams, Emmanuel Adeyeye, Macauley Keating, Daniel Matsuzaka, Sonny Coutts, Joe Bedford (Freddie Gard, 59), Renei Batlokwa, Norman Wabo, Harry Phillips (Nico Cotton, 73), Dan Walker (George Burton, 52). Substitute not used: Ross Johnson.