Blues defeated by GillsGillingham U18s 2-0 Southend United U18s; Football League Youth Alliance Merit League One; Beechings Cross; Saturday 9th April 2016; Kick-Off: 11:00am
By Robert Craven
A late red card for defender Abdul Salami compounded Southend United's disappointment at a third straight youth team defeat, the latest reverse coming at the hands of Gillingham.
Second half headers by Sam Lawford and Noel Mbo consigned Blues to a 2-0 loss, and youth team coach Dave Huzzey pulled no punches in his analysis at the end of the game. “I expect more from them. I expect a lot more from them," he declared.
"It’s been like this for the last two months now where it’s the end of the season and the mentality is that there’s nothing to play for. What the players don’t realise is there’s everything to play for; there’s a first team to get into and the U21s to get into and, at the minute, on that performance there, I don’t think they were anywhere near good enough," he added.
Dan Walker was restored to the starting line-up after making a goalscoring return to action in last week's 3-2 defeat at Plymouth Argyle whilst U16s shotstopper Nathan Bishop made his second appearance of the campaign after Josh Bexon's call-up to the first-team squad as cover following a training ground injury to Ted Smith.
Both Walker and Bishop were involved in the action early on. A first-minute cross by Elvis Bwomono gave Walker a sight of goal, but his attempted side-footed finish lacked direction and dribbled past the far post. In the sixth minute, Bishop made a confident save to deny Gills midfielder Ben Chapman, who had sent a long-range shot goalwards.
The two teams continued to trade opportunities; Lewis Gard made ground in midfield before releasing Walker, whose stinging strike required a parried save by home goalkeeper Henry Newcombe and then, in the eleventh minute, Harry Stannard smashed over when he was found in space 15 yards from goal on the left-hand side of the penalty area.
An injury to Renei Batlokwa disrupted the pattern of play, but Norman Wabo soon delivered a thunderous strike that was charged down by a defender. However, Gillingham playmaker Bradley Stevenson was beginning to become more influential and, after an initial mistake, Salami did well to shepherd him away from goal before a later attempt was claimed easily by Bishop.
When Stevenson dragged a shot wide from the edge of the penalty area shortly after the half-hour, it was indicative of Gillingham's ascendency, but Bwomono then combined with Batlokwa, receiving a return pass that led to a half-volleyed effort over the crossbar.
Another Stevenson strike whistled last Bishop's right-hand post in the 35th minute, with the youthful custodian giving the ball his full attention, and Stannard turned a Lawford cross wide two minutes later, but Blues rode out that storm to finish the first half strongly. Walker's offload to Wabo saw a fierce shot cannon into Gard and, in stoppage time, a rampaging Batlokwa run culminated in him steering his effort wide of the left-hand upright.
With the game goalless, there was every opportunity for Blues to emerge on top, but there was an early warning sign when excellent work by Mbo on the left-hand side eventually saw him guide a shot across the face of goal from an acute angle. When an Mbo cross was nodded back over Bishop and against the left-hand post, to be cleared off the line by Joe Mackenzie, it served as a premonition of what was to follow.
Walker's 56th minute attempt following a Harry Phillips corner was the latest strike to be blocked by a Gills defender and, on the hour, they took the lead. Chapman's deep free-kick from the halfway line was weighted beautifully to Lawford at the back post and he angled his header over Bishop to make it 1-0.
Wabo released substitute Alex Clark down the left as Blues sought an equaliser, but his cut-back for Gard ended with yet another blocked shot. However, there did still appear to be a route back into the fixture for Southend, who could take heart from Gillingham sitting deeper and Clark's pace on the counter-attack.
Midway through the half, Stannard steered his shot wide after being sent away by centre-back Finn O'Mara, but Blues were edging closer and Clark again marauded down the left flank before picking out the willing Gard, who this time was tackled by Gills skipper Ric Thompson in the 79th minute.
However, any hopes Southend harboured of grabbing an equaliser were quashed in the final five minutes. First Stannard's right-wing corner was powerfully headed home by Mbo from 12 yards out to double Gillingham's advantage and then captain Salami was sent off following a poor challenge in midfield. Bishop made a late save from Stevenson, but it was too late to prevent the defeat.
Huzzey called for an improvement from his team: “You don’t win football games by being the best footballers, you win football games by having determination, a desire and the flexibility to change what you do to get the same outcome, and we didn’t have that today," he fumed.
Southend United U18s: Nathan Bishop, Elvis Bwomono, Tom Clifford, Ben Musselwhite (Tom Ripsher, 77), Joe Mackenzie, Abdul Salami, Harry Phillips (Harry Daly, 77), Renei Batlokwa (Alex Clark, 57), Norman Wabo, Dan Walker, Lewis Gard. Substitutes not used: Harry Seaden, Yonis Farah.
Cautioned: Batlokwa (20, adopting an aggressive attitude).
Dismissed: Salami (88, serious foul play).