Young Blues' winning run comes to an end at the hands of Barnet.
Southend United U18s were defeated for the first time this season as visitors Barnet punished a disappointing display by running out 4-0 winners at Boots & Laces.
Blues did hit the woodwork on two occasions, and Norman Wabo saw a second-half penalty kick saved, but in truth the hosts were indebted to goalkeeper Josh Bexon, who pulled off a string of important saves – including a spot-kick stop of his own – during the opening period to keep the Bees at bay until the 42nd minute.
Nana Kyei – the man who had been thwarted by Bexon from twelve yards earlier in the half – was the opening goalscorer, and his strike was followed up after the break by further efforts from substitute Emmanuel Bowens, winger Daniel Cheema and prolific front man Matthew Stevens as Barnet eased to victory in the first of two battles between the teams inside seven days.
Southend were without defenders Abdul Salami and Elvis Bwomono through injury, which meant a first start of the season at centre-back for youth team captain Sonny Coutts. He was joined in the side by right-back Tom Ripsher in the only changes from the 3-1 victory at Peterborough United the previous weekend.
The game got underway a quarter-of-an-hour early and, by the time the clock had ticked around to the scheduled start at 11:00am, both clubs had struck the woodwork. Barnet were first to be denied as Tano Caubo’s right-wing cross bounced back off the left-hand upright in the third minute before Damani Dias’ delivery at the opposite end bounced on the top of the crossbar shortly afterwards.
Wabo, whose return to the starting eleven last weekend had heralded two goals, went close to adding to his recent tally in the 15th minute when he seized on a misplaced pass between the two Barnet centre-backs and advanced on goal, only to fire his shot wide of the left-hand post.
Chances continued to be divided between both goalmouths, and Blues’ full-backs Ripsher and Tom Clifford made equally impressive tackles in the penalty area to push the ball out of play when Caubo and Stevens were bearing down on goal as the game approached the 20-minute mark.
Then, in the 21st minute, Dias spurned a golden chance to put Southend in front as he met a Harry Phillips corner at the near post. His header lacked purchase and Muhammed Otuyo was able to gather the ball easily whilst, two minutes later, a Lewis Gard pass prised open the Bees back-line and released Wabo, who dragged another shot off-target when one-on-one with the goalkeeper.
With the game approaching the half-hour mark, neither team had established dominance, and the Shrimpers went close again when Joe Bedford was fouled 28 yards from goal, allowing Tom Clifford to line-up a free-kick that was eventually deflected inches wide of the post.
However, it was at this point that Barnet began to ramp up the intensity on their opponents, and Bexon had to race off of his goal-line to spread himself and save from Caubo on the edge of his penalty area. On 32 minutes, Clifford was adjudged to have brought down the same player just inside the box and Kyei stepped up to take the penalty, only for his strike to lack conviction and aid Bexon’s attempt to save.
Three minutes later the Kent-based custodian made an outstanding double-stop to maintain parity, turning away a precise curling shot from midfielder Jack Taylor before leaping to his feet and parrying out the follow-up from Stevens. Taylor then sliced over before setting up Kyei four minutes later, only for Bexon to again perform heroics by tipping his stringing drive over the crossbar.
Eventually, just three minutes before half-time, Barnet’s pressure told. The Bees pinned Southend back in their own half until possession was surrendered to Stevens, who delivered a slide-rule pass into the feet of Kyei. The playmaker capped a fine performance by finally atoning for his poor penalty and stroking the ball into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
Good work from Joe Mackenzie at the end of the half ensured that Stevens didn’t get a sight at Bexon’s goal and provided hope for the hosts that there was still a route back into the game. They trailed at the break for the first time this season, but the introduction of winger Alex Clark in place of Gard at the interval initially threatened to reap dividends.
Clark’s direct approach saw him make a lung-busting run from the edge of his own penalty area deep into Barnet territory in the 53rd minute, but he failed to get a shot away when two defenders crowded him out on the edge of the ‘D’. Seconds later, the Shrimpers were forced back into their own penalty area, from where Stevens smashed a snapshot narrowly over.
Otuyo mirrored Bexon’s earlier interventions with a crucial save in the 58th minute, brilliantly tipping Wabo’s header from a Harry Phillips free-kick around the post, but Southend’s shotstopper was not to be outdone and he experienced another fantastic moment when Caubo muscled his way through and an angled finish required the merest of touches to divert the ball onto the left-hand post.
Despite that, Barnet doubled their advantage on 63 minutes. Left-back Nathan Dennis was the provider, sending a superb cross into the penalty area from the touchline and then watching sub Bowens beat Mackenzie to the ball by a matter of nanoseconds to lift the ball into the roof of the net.
Worse was to follow as Coutts limped off with an injury sustained in a challenge in his own penalty area, with the resultant introduction of Ben Musselwhite forcing Bedford into service as an emergency centre-back. Imani Matthews also came on at this stage but, midway through the second period, Barnet went 3-0 up as Taylor’s free-kick was not cleared and Cheema tapped in from close range at the back post.
There was a glimmer of hope for Southend when Matthews burst into the area and was brought down, giving Wabo the chance to convert a penalty, but Otuyo matched Bexon in guessing correctly and made a good save. Clark then almost netted a first Boots & Laces goal for the Shrimpers, only to curl a left-footed shot against the frame of the goal after driving in from the right flank.
That left time for Barnet to add a fourth goal as Cheema got in behind the defence and squared to Stevens, who was presented with the simplest of finishes at the far post. Wabo worked Otuyo once more by leathering the ball goalwards on 84 minutes, and Ben Musselwhite shaved the left-hand post with a 25-yard strike late on, but Southend will be hoping for a much better display when the Bees visit again on Saturday in the Youth Alliance Cup Second Round.
Southend United U18s: Josh Bexon, Tom Ripsher, Tom Clifford, Joe Bedford, Sonny Coutts (Ben Musselwhite, 66), Joe Mackenzie, Abdul Salami, Lewis Gard (Alex Clark, 46), Renei Batlokwa, Norman Wabo, Harry Phillips (Imani Matthews 66), Damani Dias.
Substitute not used: James Macree