Report for Blues' U18s game on Saturday...
By Robert Craven
Southend United U18s continued their excellent recent form with a 3-2 victory over Barnet at The Hive that moved the squad up to fourth place in the EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference table.
Blues are unbeaten in their last six league matches and have won seven of the last ten matches in the competition to move to within two points of second-placed Cambridge United and this latest success came courtesy of fine goals by Dru Yearwood and Damani Dias in the first period and a stonking Eren Kinali effort in the second half.
Following an impressive 4-0 home win over Milton Keynes Dons at Boots & Laces, youth team coach Dave Huzzey made just one change to the starting line-up with fit-again full-back Tom Clifford replacing Dan Humphreys to make his 50th competitive youth team appearance for the club. Kinali continued as the focal point of Southend’s attacking play with support from Dias, Alex Clark and Lewis Gard.
Blues would only take eight minutes to take the lead, but before that moment Clifford would need to be at his best defensively to cut out a Barnet break following a Blues corner. Having been stationed on the edge of the opposition penalty area for the flag-kick, he raced back to effect a sliding challenge and win a goal-kick at the other end in the fifth minute.
Then came Southend’s clinical response. The south-east Essex side’s upturn in fortunes has coincided with an exception run of form for first-year scholar Yearwood, and he was on the spot to give Blues the lead. Dias picked out the run of Clark down the left flank, and he beat his full-back before cutting the ball back from the bye-line for the midfielder to dispatch home from around twelve yards out.
Five minutes later Clark advanced out of his own half before sending a 25-yard strike narrowly wide of the right-hand post, but that should not give the impression that Blues were having things totally their own way. A right-footed Barnet shot was sent wildly off-target after a quarter-of-an-hour and, shortly afterwards, a right-wing centre was fizzed across Nathan Bishop’s six-yard box.
Despite that, Southend looked dangerous every time they went forwards, and that was particularly true of winger Clark. In the 21st minute he angled a drive across the face of goal and five minutes later opposite flanker Dias delivered a teasing centre that only just eluded the run of Kinali into the six-yard box. Moments later centre-half Taylor Curran powerfully headed a Gard free-kick into the side-netting.
On 31 minutes the visitors doubled their advantage. Again the move was instigated by a Gard set-piece, on this occasion a right-wing corner that was only cleared as far as Ben Musselwhite 25 yards from goal. He hooked the ball back into the penalty area and, after Curran had helped it into the path of Dias, he confidently rifled home from fourteen yards out.
Kinali thought he had earned a penalty after burrowing his way into the penalty area in the 36th minute, but the referee waved away his appeals for a spot-kick as he was sent tumbling to the turf by a defender, and in the final seconds of the opening period only some useful footwork from the Barnet goalkeeper helped him to sidestep the forward 25 yards from his own goal.
Clark sent a long-range attempt wide of the right-hand post as Southend sought to extend their lead still further early in the second half, but the game was becoming increasingly fractious and Gard, Kinali and Musselwhite were all cautioned in quick succession. However, they regained their composure just before the hour mark to make it 3-0.
Dias was involved in a goal for a third time, this time chipping a delightful pass in behind the Barnet defence for Kinali to latch onto. The first-year scholar sprung the offside trap down the right-hand side and proceeded to smash a devilishly-dipping half-volley over the goalkeeper and into the top left-hand corner of the net for his fourth goal of the season.
Clark could have contributed a superb solo fourth in the 72nd minute, but after an excellent forty-yard run his effort from just inside the penalty area was brilliantly tipped over the crossbar by the Barnet custodian. However, the game was becoming more stretched, and as the game moved into the final quarter-of-an-hour, Bishop became more active.
In the 77th minute he came quickly off his line to save at the feet of a forward before leaping decisively on the loose ball to avert any danger. Two minutes later Bishop made a fine near-post stop, pushing a strong shot wide of the left-hand upright to spark a Shrimpers counter-attack with substitute Emile Acquah finding Yearwood for a stinging shot that was parried to safety.
Harry Cuthbert smashed wide from Yearwood’s 82nd minute pass, but Barnet pulled a goal back three minutes from the time when the ball was worked into the Blues penalty area and a scuffed finish deceived Bishop to roll into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
Acquah attempted to restore the three-goal lead with a fierce strike that was deflected to Yearwood, with his centre shepherded away from danger by the Barnet backline. Then, two minutes into stoppage time, the hosts halved their remaining deficit as a hanging right-wing cross was lobbed back across goal and fired into the net from eight yards out.
From a seemingly comfortable position Southend had a few anxious moments to see out, but the defence stood firm, particularly in the fifth minute of injury time as they cleared a late free-kick. Blues resisted the fightback to claim another victory ahead of Northampton Town’s visit to Boots & Laces on Saturday morning.
Southend United U18s: Nathan Bishop, Elvis Bwomono, Tom Clifford, Ben Musselwhite, Joe Mackenzie, Taylor Curran, Lewis Gard (Harry Cuthbert, 76), Dru Yearwood, Eren Kinali (Emile Acquah, 64), Damani Dias, Alex Clark. Substitutes not used: Harry Seaden, Yonis Farah, Zak Pianim.
Goals: Yearwood (8), Dias (31), Kinali (58).
Cautioned: Gard (47, delaying the restart of play), Kinali (52, adopting an aggressive attitude), Musselwhite (52, adopting an aggressive attitude), Clark (63, delaying the restart of play).