Blues' Youth Team make a winning start to the season.Southend United U18s 5-0 AFC Wimbledon; EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference; Boots & Laces; Saturday 6th August 2016; Kick-Off 11:00am
By Robert Craven
Southend United U18s made an impressive start to the 2016/17 season with a 5-0 victory over AFC Wimbledon at Boots & Laces.
After a pre-season campaign in which Blues managed to net five against Watford and four against Brighton & Hove Albion, Dave Huzzey’s side continued their free-scoring form with a five-star performance against the Dons, who had beaten Southend in the final match of the Merit League One campaign at the end of last term.
Huzzey handed competitive debuts to Taylor Curran, a tall first-year defender, and Jon Benton, an Under-16 player who was joined by a further debutant, Matt Rush, during the second period. Rush completed the scoring with a quarter-of-an-hour remaining after goals from Lewis Gard and Benton, plus a brace either side of the half-time interval by Sewa Marah, had put Blues in control.
Full-back Elvis Bwomono was handed the captain’s armband, and in the early stages he and his fellow defenders found themselves overworked. The Dons earned four corners inside the opening ten minutes, and midfielder Benton was well-positioned besides the right-hand post to nod Nicholas Akoto’s effort off the line following one such flag-kick was delivered by Nathan Wood.
Bwomono was forced to concede a corner himself in the 14th minute following good build-up play by Wood and Antonio Chapman, and a minute later Jayden Antwi had Nathan Bishop and left-back Tom Clifford scurrying back to block his path towards goal as the hosts remained on the back foot. Against that backdrop, Southend surprisingly took the lead in the 17th minute.
The honour of the first goal of the season fell to playmaker Gard. Taking on the responsibility of following in the footsteps of Jack Payne, Jack Bridge and Harry Phillips in the number ten role, Gard made no mistake after being presented with the ball by a misplaced Dsaze Urhoghide pass on the edge of the penalty area. The second-year scholar calmly stroked the ball past Josef Bursik from 20 yards out.
Even after moving in front, Southend had to be patient. Bishop maintained parity midway through the first half by palming an Anthony Hartigan free-kick to safety, and on 25 minutes the young shotstopper was on hand to clutch hold of an Antwi header from another Wood corner. Defender Reuben Collins then dragged a shot across the face of goal, but Blues were about to double their advantage.
That second goal arrived on 28 minutes and it proved to be the highlight of an impressive inaugural start for Benton. The central midfielder waited menacingly on the edge of the penalty area after Gard had fought hard to win the ball from a Bwomono throw-in, eventually caressing his shot into the corner of the net after being picked out by his team-mate on the edge of the ‘D’.
Curran was cautioned after adopting an aggressive attitude at a set-piece, but Blues defended the free-kick well and Bishop held onto Antwi’s volley on 29 minutes. Seven minutes later the custodian was beaten by the forward as he latched onto a Wood through-ball, but Joe Mackenzie got back well to hook to safety.
Wimbledon continued to press, and Wood got around Harry Cuthbert to square the ball for Antwi, but Curran was on hand six yards out to stab away and Eren Kinali’s final act of the match before being replaced by Dru Yearwood was to blast the ball to safety.
Southend still had time to make it 3-0 before the half-time break as forward Marah registered his first goal of the campaign. Bwomono sent a raking pass down the right-hand side, and the first-year front-man took the ball in his stride, holding off Akoto before rolling his shot beyond Bursik to add a clinical gloss to the scoreline at the interval.
Despite seeing little possession, Blues had given themselves a degree of comfort by half-time, and they set about extending the advantage early in the second period. Yearwood side-footed into the gloves of Bursik five minutes after the break, but Wimbledon retained an interest in the match and Bishop made a smart stop from Wood.
However, Southend did stretch their lead in the 56th minute as Marah doubled his personal tally. Clifford delivered a right-wing corner into the penalty area and, when Bursik and his defence couldn’t clear sufficiently, the ball dropped to Gard at the back post. He directed it back into the penalty area where Marah forced his shot over the line from six yards out.
Rush was immediately introduced, and he almost scored with his first touch when Yearwood flicked a Cuthbert pass into his path. Top goalscorer for the U15s last season, Rush scented an opening U18s goal and his shot beat Bursik, only for Akoto to clear off the goal-line. From the resultant corner, Dias nodded Gard’s cross over from close-range.
Rush was not to be denied, though, and after 75 minutes he had his debut goal. Cuthbert picked out the attacker with a wonderful pass from midfield and Rush advanced down the right-hand side to loft the ball gently over Bursik and into the net via the base of the left-hand upright.
Southend were in command of the match, and Rush tried to set up Dias four minutes after his own finish, but the winger couldn’t beat Bursik under pressure from two defenders. In the final minute, Rush then cut the ball back from the bye-line for Marah, but his opportunity for a hat-trick passed as he failed to control six yards out. By then, Blues had done enough to record a fine opening day triumph.
Southend United U18s: Nathan Bishop, Elvis Bwomono, Tom Clifford, Harry Cuthbert, Joe Mackenzie, Taylor Curran, Damani Dias, Jon Benton (Matt Rush, 57), Sewa Marah, Lewis Gard (Dan Humphreys, 75), Eren Kinali (Dru Yearwood, 42). Substitutes not used: Harry Seaden, Yonis Farah.
Goals: Gard (17), Benton (28), Marah (43, 56), Rush (75).
Cautioned: Curran (29, adopting an aggressive attitude), Dias (50, foul tackle).