Blues march on in the FA Youth Cup following comeback win over Newport County.
Southend United U18s reached the Third Round of The FA Youth Cup for the fifth time in the past decade after coming from behind to defeat Newport County 2-1 after extra time at Rodney Parade.
Blues will now travel to FA Premier Academy League North Group outfit Blackburn Rovers after defeating the Exiles, who had taken the lead after just eight minutes through Connah Hughes, in the Second Round. Norman Wabo hauled Southend level midway through the second period before a Harry Phillips penalty in the 103rd minute of the tie settled the game.
The visitors were forced into one change from the side that had defeated Barton Rovers 9-1 in the previous round as Ben Musselwhite was withdrawn through injury and his place was taken by Lewis Gard. Schoolboy Montel Brown was named on the bench. Joe Bedford returned to the starting line-up having been called up to the first-team squad for their League One encounter against Blackpool on Saturday.
Bedford was involved in the first incident of the match when he received treatment following a foul in front of the visiting dugout, but Newport took the lead with the first attack of any real substance in the eighth minute. Jake Young picked out a pass to Hughes, and the forward found himself unmarked to steer the ball beyond Josh Bexon from ten yards out.
Blues sought an immediate response, but Phillips flashed a shot wide in the tenth minute and Wabo, who had been placed clear of left-back Ciaran Smith by Renei Batlokwa’s return pass, could only scoop his cross out of play. Southend were struggling to settle, a matter that was encapsulated in one moment when in-form forward Dan Walker blasted over when one-on-one with goalkeeper Rhys Davies.
Despite their anxiety, Southend began to control possession, and skipper Abdul Salami rose highest to nod a Phillips free-kick across the face of goal in the 19th minute. Wabo felt that he was held back as he attempted to latch onto the knockdown, but Newport would continue to defend resolutely throughout the match.
Salami was cautioned in the 24th minute for tripping Smith as he attacked down the left wing, and another left-sided run posed problems for the Blues four minutes later when Dafydd Jones slashed his shot across the face of Bexon’s goal.
The teenage Blues were working hard to get back into the game, with Walker and Phillips particularly prevalent as they constantly hustled the Newport back-line, but they could not create any further openings in the first half and instead they were relieved in the 38th minute when a Hughes shot was deflected away from goal after Lewi Bamford had stolen the ball from Wabo.
Southend gathered their thoughts at the interval and, after an initially slow start to the second period, they began to build momentum from the moment Walker outmuscled Ben Jones to bear down on Davies one-on-one. The referee whistled for an infringement, but the tenacity shown signalled a revitalised attitude from the visitors.
Sixty seconds later Batlokwa drew a fine parried save from Davies when he unleashed a strike from the edge of the penalty area, with the classy midfielder firing the rebound over the crossbar, and shortly afterwards Salami pressurised Davies into dropping a Phillips corner, only for Walker to hook the loose ball off target.
There was a nervous moment when Bexon had to sprint off of his goal-line to clear in front of County substitute Rhys Kavanagh just before the hour mark, but that was a rare counter-attack for the hosts, who were happy to see Davies push out a 25-yard Walker shot in the 62nd minute. Tom Clifford then had a free-kick deflected over before Joe Mackenzie nodded wide from the ensuing Phillips corner.
Finally Southend got the equaliser that their persistence deserved in the 66th minute. Batlokwa provided the pass, threading the ball through to Wabo, who expertly guided his shot into the bottom right-hand corner of the net. Despite Davies getting a hand to the ball, the front man was able to celebrate his 15th goal of the season.
That, perhaps, should have been the cue for Southend to step up again, but a fracas that led to Wabo being cautioned in the 72nd minute seemed to throw the away team off their stride and, after Walker had howled with frustration at smashing over again, Salami had to get back to tackle Jones in the penalty area twelve minutes from the end of the regulation ninety minutes.
Newport were incensed that the referee failed to award a spot-kick, and Southend were soon able to attack again through Batlokwa, whose 81st minute strike lacked the purchase to test Davies. Both teams were tentative inside the final ten minutes, but late on there was a chance for Wabo, who nodded over, before Dafydd Jones arrowed a shot into Bexon’s gloves with the final action of normal time.
Blues regrouped, introducing Damani Dias in place of Batlokwa, and he immediately forced Davies to claw away a deflected shot within two minutes of the restart. The visitors’ quality was beginning to shine through, and Wabo jinked past a defender from Salami’s nod-down before seeing Davies beat away his fierce shot, whilst Bedford’s audacious 35-yard chip was gratefully clutched by the custodian.
Then, less than three minutes from half-time in extra time, came the game’s decisive moment. Elvis Bwomono set off to retrieve a deep Phillips corner and Davies, who had failed in his attempts to catch the initial delivery, was adjudged to have hauled the full-back to the ground in his bid to make amends. Phillips took responsibility for the penalty, converting from 12 yards to add to his First Round hat-trick in the competition.
Bexon had to be alert to scoop up a Nathan Mathias free-kick just before the turnaround, but Blues could have sealed the tie shortly after kick-off when Dias found himself clear of the defence. His clean strike was turned away by Davies before Walker lashed the follow-up over once Dias had squared the ball into his path.
Having failed to give themselves a cushion, Southend had to fight hard to maintain their one-goal lead in the dying stages. Bexon got to the ball just ahead of Nyall Gray in the 118th minute before Hughes had two chances to become a hero again for the hosts. He fired across the face of goal with the first before volleying inches wide in stoppage time with the second, leaving Blues to celebrate their Third Round prize.
Southend United U18s: Josh Bexon, Elvis Bwomono, Tom Clifford, Joe Bedford, Abdul Salami, Joe Mackenzie, Norman Wabo (Imani Matthews, 111), Lewis Gard, Dan Walker, Renei Batlokwa (Damani Dias, 90), Harry Phillips. Substitutes not used: James Macree, Tom Ripsher, Montel Brown.
Goals: Wabo (66), Phillips (103, pen).