Youngsters suffer third consecutive defeat in the Youth Alliance Merit League One.
Southend United U18s suffered a third consecutive defeat in Football League Youth Alliance Merit League One as Luton Town exited Boots & Laces with a 2-0 victory.
Blues were dealt a harsh lesson by the visitors, who punished mistakes either side of the half-time interval to record a second win of the season in south-east Essex. Daril Ngwala netted the first and Osamu Allman the second before a bad-tempered conclusion that saw Luton’s Isaac Galliford and Southend substitute Dan Walker both sent off within six second-half minutes.
The hosts were forced to make changes with Josh Bexon, Ross Johnson, Sonny Coutts and George Burton all missing out due to injury. James Macree, Macauley Keating and Daniel Matsuzaka came into the side, with Renei Batlokwa replacing Harry Phillips in the starting line-up.
Both teams struggled to cope with a strong cross-field wind in the early stages of the encounter, and the first real shot was not delivered until the 12th minute when Southend’s marauding right-back, Jordan Williams, drilled wide of the left-hand upright from 25 yards out. Shortly afterwards Macree was drawn into action for the first time, comfortably gathering a half-volleyed strike.
The first-year custodian’s next involvement, in the 19th minute, was altogether more impressive. Having seen Abdul Salami dispossessed on the edge of the penalty areea, he advanced off his goal-line to block a forward’s shot with his legs at the near post and the save invigorated the hosts, who established a hold on the game thanks to the midfield play of Macauley Keating and stand-in skipper Freddie Gard.
Despite that, Blues fell behind in the 28th minute. Ngwala found himself in plenty of space just outside the Southend penalty area and, when nobody approached the attacker to close him down, he delivered a skidding shot towards the bottom left-hand corner of the net. Macree made up ground to get his palms to the ball, but he succeeded only in pushing it into the roof of the goal.
Five minutes later, the young shotstopper was injured after failing to grab hold of a glancing header from a deep right-wing free-kick. Matsuzaka had positioned himself on the goal-line to thump clear, but at the same time Macree spun around to try to clutch the ball at the second attempt and he jarred his shoulder in the process. After a lengthy spell of treatment, he was deemed fit to continue.
The final stages of the opening period saw the Hatters push forwards in search of a second goal. A header at the back post was nodded over following a chipped cross in the final minute of the regulation 45 and, three minutes into stoppage time, a forward outpaced Salami to latch onto a lofted through-ball, only to then roll his shot wide.
With just a one-goal deficit to contend with, Blues could still sense a route back into the game, and they came out for the second half with renewed purpose. A good move involving Williams, who centred from the right, and Batlokwa, who cushioned the ball back to the edge of the penalty area, ended with Nico Cotton warming the goalkeeper’s gloves two minutes after the interval.
Disappointingly, Southend fell further behind in the 52nd minute. Macree passed short to Emmanuel Adeyeye on the left of the penalty area, but the full-back returned the compliment when he was closed down and Macree’s attempts to beat an onrushing forward culminated in Allman lifting his shot into an empty net from ten yards out.
Blues had trailed 2-0 at Barnet seven days previously before bursting into life, and one of the goalscorers at The Hive threatened to initiate another comeback this time around as Brandon Scott beat his man before forcing the goalkeeper into a good save. Following that attempt, shortly after the hour mark, Walker was introduced for his first action of the season having sat out the past eight months through injury.
Walker’s arrival in place of Salami marked an attacking move by Southend, who had recently seen a Luton forward curl wide after twisting and turning on the edge of the penalty area. The substitute gave Town something new to contend with and he was soon fouled, allowing Cotton to float a free-kick into the hands of the goalkeeper.
Harry Phillips came on for Batlokwa midway through the half, and the two substitutes quickly combined, along with Norman Wabo, to set up Gard. The midfielder seemed to have lined his shot up well, but the ball took a bobble on the edge of the ‘D’ and his effort flew over the crossbar.
Luton missed chances to further extend their advantage when a header was missed at the near post and then a forward slid his shot the wrong side of the upright, and their frustrations spilled over when Galliford went in with an unnecessarily robust challenge on Macree, resulting in his dismissal.
Unfortunately for Southend, both teams ended the match with ten men when Walker was shown a red card in the fourth minute of stoppage time, the forward having reacted badly in a contretemps with a Luton player when a free-kick decision went against him. Blues now face three tricky fixtures on the road at Milton Keynes Dons, Exeter City and Peterborough United as they look to make an impression on the top half of the Merit League One table.
Southend United U18s: James Macree, Jordan Williams, Emmanuel Adeyeye, Macauley Keating, Abdul Salami (Dan Walker, 62), Daniel Matsuzaka, Brandon Scott, Freddie Gard, Norman Wabo, Renei Batlokwa (Harry Phillips, 67), Nico Cotton.
Substitute not used: Joe Bedford.