Report from Blues' U18s game last weekend...
EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference; Boots & Laces; Saturday 10th December 2016; Kick-Off 11:00am
By Robert Craven
Southend United U18s extended their unbeaten league run to seven matches despite being held to a 2-2 draw by Northampton Town at Boots & Laces on Saturday.
Blues had looked set for a sixth victory during that period when Joe Mackenzie and Emile Acquah had given them a 2-0 lead inside the opening quarter-of-an-hour, but Joe Iaciofano reduced the arrears in the 22nd minute before converting the rebound after Nathan Bishop had saved his penalty fifteen minutes from the end to earn the Cobblers a share of the spoils.
Youth team coach Dave Huzzey elected to make just a single change to the starting line-up following a 3-2 triumph at Barnet seven days previously with towering centre-forward Acquah replacing Damani Dias. That switch shifted Eren Kinali out to the right flank with Lewis Gard taking on the role of playmaker.
Southend had taken the lead within two minutes of the reverse fixture at Moulton Agricultural College, and they almost repeated the feat when Acquah laid the ball off to Elvis Bwomono for a near-post cross that Alex Clark hooked over. Sixty seconds later Acquah planted a header wide of the upright from Kinali’s right-wing delivery as Blues again failed to threaten Adam North’s goal.
Nonethless only eight minutes had passed when Blues did move ahead having been awarded a free-kick on the left-hand touchline. Gard provided the cross deep to the far post, where Mackenzie timed his run to perfection to power a header into the turf and then up into the top right-hand corner of the net. It was the defender’s second goal of the campaign and the sixth of his youth team career.
Immediately Blues sought a second goal, and Kinali’s half-volley required a smart save from North in the ninth minute before the custodian dived to his left-hand side to push a skidding Elvis Bwomono strike around the upright. At the other end, James Gillard thought he had equalised, but he was adjudged to have fouled Nathan Bishop as he headed home a right-wing cross.
That allowed Southend to extend their advantage in the 15th minute with striker Acquah converting his third goal in just his seventh Shrimpers appearance. Bwomono’s right-wing raid ended with a cross that dropped to Kinali. His shot was partially charged down, but it bounced kindly for Acquah to turn in from fifteen yards out.
Blues had run out 6-1 winners in the reverse game, and they would have had designs on replicating that scoreline until Iaciofano gave warning of his ability by halving the deficit midway through the opening period. The striker showed excellent strength to wriggle free of Taylor Curran’s attention and then fire beneath Bishop to make it 2-1.
Despite the setback, Huzzey’s charges bounced back and battling midfield play by Kinali and Dru Yearwood led to Gard arrowing a 25-yard strike into the gloves of North. In the 26th minute Alex Clark went even closer to scoring a third Southend goal when play was spread to the winger on the left flank and his fierce attempt cannoned back off the crossbar with Kinali failing to drive home the follow-up.
Blues were playing with real freedom at this point, which meant that Mackenzie and Curran had to be alert to Iaciofano’s threat in defensive positions, but at the other end Curran found Acquah and he teed up Musselwhite for a 30-yard shot that flew inches over the crossbar. A Tom Clifford free-kick then found Curran at the back post, but his header was claimed by North.
An action-packed first half continued to see chances created, and Clifford’s intelligent pass for Musselwhite enabled the midfielder to centre towards Clark, who was millimetres away from connecting with the ball for a simple tap-in. Iaciofano then darted around Bishop in the 38th minute, but his cross for Lewis Irwin was too high and Bwomono was able to sweep to safety.
Play immediately switched to the opposite penalty area, where Acquah chipped over from a Clifford centre, and even in stoppage time Blues almost grabbed a third goal. Clark fizzed the ball into the penalty area and Gard helped it on to Acquah, whose strike was brilliantly pushed away by North. Clark pounced on the follow-up, but North had recovered his poise to turn his effort around the post.
The initial signs in the second half were that Southend would continue to find themselves in the ascendancy as patient build-up play culminated in Clifford picking out Clark’s run and his shot flew over. In the 53rd minute Clark combined well with Gard, but his intended cross for Acquah was read and intercepted by Northampton defender Dru Anaele.
However, the momentum in the game slowly started to shift as the match approached the hour mark. Iaciofano side-footed wide from a Sean Whaler centre in the 55th minute, and shortly afterwards the striker drilled a shot into Bishop’s midriff from a Vaughn Marrett pass. Musselwhite briefly relieved the pressure by arrowing a 30-yard shot into North’s gloves, but Town would soon return to the front foot.
In the 62nd minute, Curran failed to read a high ball over the top and Clifford had to react quickly to steal the ball from Irwin’s toecap. Two minutes later Clifford gave the ball away on the left flank and Iaciofano got goal-side of the defence, although on this occasion Mackenzie was present to clear the cross.
There was a suggestion that Southend might have ridden out the storm when another downward Mackenzie header, from a Clifford corner, bounced up and grazed the top of the crossbar and then Acquah galloped onto a clearance and rode the challenge of Anaele, only to see his effort deflected into the grateful gloves of North.
However, Northampton were given the opportunity to level the scores when Acquah was adjudged to have fouled an attacker as the Cobblers tried to convert a corner. Iaciofano’s penalty was parried out by Bishop – who saved this third consecutive spot-kick in the process – but on this occasion the forward reacted swiftly to force home the rebound.
The drama was not over yet. Visiting goalkeeper North picked up an injury as Northampton defended a free-kick and, after a lengthy period of treatment, he had to be replaced by U16s shotstopper Bradley Lashley. Within minutes of the restart, Curran was injured as he attempted to stop Iaciofano connecting with a left-wing cross, necessitating the introduction of Zak Pianim.
Northampton seemed more likely to take advantage of the lengthy stoppage time when Josh McCammon and Anaele were denied by blocks in quick succession, but Gard had a superb opportunity to snatch the three points for Southend when he burst clear, only to guide his lob over Lashley agonisingly wide. There was still time for Acquah to hurry his shot from Yearwood’s pass late on, leaving the match tied at 2-2.
Southend United U18s: Nathan Bishop, Elvis Bwomono, Tom Clifford, Ben Musselwhite, Joe Mackenzie, Taylor Curran (Zak Pianim, 86), Eren Kinali, Dru Yearwood, Emile Acquah, Lewis Gard, Alex Clark. Substitutes not used: Yonis Farah, Stuart O’Shane, Harry Cuthbert, Sewa Marah.
Goals: Mackenzie (8), Acquah (15).
Cautioned: Mackenzie (24, handball), Acquah (74, unsporting behaviour).