Blues back to winning ways with comfortable victory over Stevenage.
Southend United U18s rebounded from back-to-back Football League Youth Alliance South East Conference defeats with a fine 3-0 triumph away to Stevenage.
Two goals inside sixty first-half seconds from Tom Clifford and Harry Phillips put Blues in control of the match, and a headed third by vice-captain Abdul Salami completed the scoring shortly after the interval. The visitors to Shephalbury Sports Centre were also thwarted by the crossbar and two goal-line clearances as Stevenage struggled to live with the vibrancy of Southend’s performance.
Academy Manager Ricky Duncan and youth team coach Dave Huzzey named an experienced line-up, changing the team’s shape to allow Norman Wabo and Dan Walker to team up in attack. Sonny Coutts returned from injury to captain the side, whilst Ben Musselwhite appeared as a holding midfielder.
It was the intent of Musselwhite’s first-year colleagues, Elvis Bwomono and Tom Clifford, from full-back that was a feature of the opening stages of the contest and Bwomono in particular sent a number of dangerous deliveries into the penalty area that went unconverted. Joe Bedford unfurled the first shot of the game from a Phillips pass, but he chipped off-target in the fifth minute and Boro battled hard to stay on terms.
Wabo unleashed a strong 25-yard shot that flew inches over the crossbar in the 12th minute, but Stevenage began to live with the high tempo of Southend’s play and a curling attempt at the opposite end suffered a similar fate before an attacker planted a header wide when positioned well at the far post to score from a corner.
By the midway point of the opening period, Bedford had set up Walker to warm the goalkeeper’s gloves and, on 25 minutes, he was involved as Blues took the lead. Clifford advanced through midfield and exchanged passes with the second-year schemer, who measured a beautiful return ball into the path of the left-back. He showed twinkling toes to dance past a defender before slotting into the net with aplomb.
There was no respite for the hosts, who were forced to work the ball back to their goalkeeper from the restart. Wabo threw himself at the custodian and partially charged down the clearance, with the ball being squeezed out to Phillips some 35 yards from goal. The playmaker continued his fine recent form by composing himself before steering his shot into the empty net from distance to make it 2-0.
The stricken shotstopper received treatment from the physio for a lengthy period before being substituted, and Phillips ensured that the incumbent was brought into action on 36 minutes when he side-footed straight into the replacement’s gloves following a fine run by midfield partner Renei Batlokwa. Two minutes later Elvis Bwomono attacked down the right flank before chipping over the crossbar from 20 yards out.
Wabo brought the first-half action to a close by thundering a shot against the crossbar after a superb pass from Bwomono, but there was only a brief let-up for Stevenage before Southend began the second period in irrepressible mood. Musselwhite slid the ball through to Walker on 46 minutes, but the forward delayed his shot and allowed the goalkeeper to smother.
A minute later, Walker was thwarted again as he was found by Batlokwa’s flicked pass and the goalkeeper managed to get the slightest of touches to turn the ball past the far post. However, from the ensuing Phillips corner, Walker towered above his marker to nod across goal and Salami, arriving late besides the right-hand upright, powered his header into the net.
The goalkeeper then thwarted Walker and Wabo in quick succession, leading to Southend’s management team imploring their team to maintain the intensity of their performance. Blues made their first substitution on 62 minutes when Musselwhite was replaced by Joe Mukena, a first-year on loan from Tottenham Hotspur. Mukena has been training with the Shrimpers in recent days and the change was seamless.
Elvis Bwomono put in a superb display at right-back Walker thought that he had added a fourth goal when he brought down a long Coutts free-kick and lifted the ball over the goalkeeper, but a defender skirted around to clear off the line in the 66th minute. Three minutes later Batlokwa and Bedford combined to set up Phillips for an attempt that was blocked by a defender.
Wabo’s final contribution was to fire Bwomono’s centre at the ‘keeper before he made way for Imani Matthews, who made an instant impact by helping another cross from the right-back into the path of Phillips. His shot was stopped on the goal-line by a defender as Blues were denied yet again in their efforts to extend their advantage.
By that time Batlokwa, too, had been replaced to allow Lewis Gard to feature, and both Gard and Matthews were involved, as well as Bedford and Phillips, in the 80th minute during a sublime move that culminated in Bwomono slashing marginally wide of the left-hand post. Josh Bexon was a virtual spectator by this point, with Mukena and Bwomono next linking up to set up Phillips for a wayward 83rd minute strike.
Bwomono’s tremendous display continued deep into the game as his pinpoint pass put Gard in an excellent position. The youngster forced the ball through to Walker, who couldn’t convert either that opportunity or another in stoppage time when fed by the same player. Despite the forward’s obvious frustrations, Southend could be satisfied with an excellent morning’s work and a 3-0 victory.
Southend United U18s: Josh Bexon, Elvis Bwomono, Tom Clifford, Ben Musselwhite (Joy Mukena, 62), Sonny Coutts, Abdul Salami, Joe Bedford, Renei Batlokwa (Lewis Gard, 72), Harry Phillips, Norman Wabo (Imani Matthews, 75), Dan Walker.
Substitutes not used: Damani Dias, Joe Mackenzie.
Goals: Clifford (25), Phillips (26), Salami (47).