Young Blues progress in Youth Alliance Cup with win over Barnet.
Southend United U18s reached the Southern Section Quarter-Finals of the Football League Youth Alliance Cup with a superb 5-2 victory over Barnet at Boots & Laces.
Blues bounced back from their first defeat of the season seven days previously – which ironically had come against the same opponents – in some style as Norman Wabo and Harry Phillips both contributed braces and Joe Bedford added a late fifth goal. Nana Kyei had twice put Barnet in front, but they were eventually overwhelmed by the hosts during an excellent encounter.
Right-back Elvis Bwomono was fit enough to return to action for the Shrimpers and he replaced the injured Sonny Coutts in defence in the only change to the starting eleven from the 4-0 reverse against the Bees in the league. In the absence of both Coutts and vice-captain Abdul Salami, Phillips was handed the armband and he relished the role with an outstanding individual display as the team’s playmaker.
Both teams flew out of the blocks during a misty start to proceedings in south-east Essex, but the defences stood firm and prevented any early goals. Damani Dias was a persistent presence on the right-hand side for Blues and he gave his full-back a torrid time when play was switched to his flank, but it was Phillips who delivered the first shot in the eighth minute following a Wabo flick, only for a defender to block.
Southend had begun brightly, but Barnet took the lead in the 14th minute. Midfielder Jack Taylor managed to get the better of Renei Batlokwa on the edge of the Blues box and he slid the ball into the path of Kyei, who rolled his finish into the bottom right-hand corner of the net. The assistant referee’s flag was raised but, following a consultation with the referee, the goal stood to little protest from the home side.
In their previous meeting, Blues had been unable to respond quickly to a goal just before half-time, but on this occasion it took just four minutes for the Shrimpers to reply. Batlokwa was fouled and, when Tom Clifford’s free-kick was charged down, Joe Bedford recycled the ball into the penalty area. Muhammad Otuyo dropped the cross into the path of Wabo, who fired clinically into the goal from 15 yards out.
Encouraged by Academy Manager Ricky Duncan and youth team coach Dave Huzzey, Southend stepped up their intensity and pressed their visitors back. It appeared to be working until the mid-point of the first half when Bwomono was caught out by Daniel Cheema and Tom Ripsher brought down the winger in the penalty area. Kyei sent Josh Bexon the wrong way and Barnet moved into a 2-1 lead.
Again Blues refused to back down, and a short Clifford set-piece released Phillips on the right-hand side of the penalty area, from where his cross was deflected against the top of the crossbar. Despite that, Barnet appeared confident and Cheema’s driven centre was just missed by the onrushing Matthew Stevens at the near post before Taylor’s dipping strike from the edge of the ‘D’ narrowly cleared the crossbar.
Southend needed to release the pressure on their back-line, especially since Bwomono received a caution after chopping down the dangerous Cheema, and they were handed a chance to equalise on 38 minutes when Wabo was tripped by full-back Remi Gyimah. Wabo had taken the responsibility from twelve yards last week and missed, but this time Phillips stepped up to coolly stroke the spot-kick past Otuyo.
It remained level until the break, when Huzzey had the chance to rouse his troops again. Blues stepped out in the second half with real assurance, and Phillips forced Otuyo into a smart near-post save after an excellent cross-field pass from Bedford in the 48th minute. From the resultant short Phillips corner, Southend went ahead as Bedford’s swinging left-wing delivery was met by Wabo’s precise looping header.
In the 53rd minute, it looked as though Joe Mackenzie might extend the advantage, but his powerful aerial effort from another Phillips flag-kick was brilliantly turned against the crossbar by Otuyo. At the other end, Bexon had to remain alert to turn a Stevens snapshot around the near post following a neat reverse pass from Taylor.
Then came the game’s decisive moment. Wonderful build-up play down the left-hand side involving Clifford and Phillips fed the ball into the path of Batlokwa. He managed to flick the ball beautifully around a defender to set Phillips away and the second-year scholar took the ball to a narrow angle before arcing his shot around Otuyo and in off the top of the right-hand upright for a simply sensational finish.
Even with a two-goal cushion, Southend could not relax. Batlokwa’s hard work inside the penalty gave Wabo the chance to fire marginally over in the 67th minute before the front man was replaced by Dan Walker, but much of the action in the next ten minutes took place at the opposite end, where Kyei flashed a shot across the face of goal in the 71st minute.
A couple of crosses flew along the edge of the Southend six-yard box, but it was marksman Stevens who went closest to converting when he tracked along the penalty area and smashed over having been shepherded away from a central position thanks to excellent defensive work by Mackenzie, Ripsher and Bwomono.
In the 84th minute, Blues extinguished any hopes of a Barnet revival. Phillips lined up a free-kick from 30 yards out but, with everyone expecting a shot, the second-year scholar intelligently rolled the ball into the feet of Bedford, who cut back from his position on the right-hand side of the penalty area before caressing his shot beyond Otuyo to make it 5-2.
During stoppage time Phillips set up substitute Walker, whose fierce finish was pushed out by Otuyo, before attempting to complete his hat-trick himself, only for a long-range attempt to be palmed out for a corner. That was the final action of the match, and Southend were able to celebrate a spot in the draw for the Third Round of the Youth Alliance Cup.
Southend United U18s: Josh Bexon, Elvis Bwomono, Tom Clifford, Joe Bedford, Tom Ripsher, Joe Mackenzie, Lewis Gard (Ben Musselwhite, 76), Renei Batlokwa, Norman Wabo (Dan Walker, 70), Harry Phillips, Damani Dias (Imani Matthews, 86).
Substitutes not used: James Macree, Perry Hirst.
Goals: Wabo (18, 49), Phillips (38 pen, 63), Bedford (84).