Honours even against the CherriesSouthend United U18s 1-1 AFC Bournemouth U18s; Football League Youth Alliance Merit League One; Boots & Laces; Saturday 13th February 2016; Kick-Off 12:00 noon
By Robert Craven
An outstanding free-kick by Harry Phillips earned Southend United U18s a point from their opening Football League Youth Alliance Merit League One fixture against AFC Bournemouth at Boots & Laces.
Playmaker Phillips curled home brilliantly in the 77th minute of the Boots & Laces clash against the Cherries to earn Blues a 1-1 draw after Ash Pope had given the visitors the lead on the stroke of half-time. Youth team coach Dave Huzzey felt that a share of the spoils was the least that his side deserved following an action-packed 90 minutes.
“I’m pleased. I felt that, maybe towards the end of the game, we could’ve come out with a win but I’m pleased with the boys for coming back from 1-0 down against a very good side. I think it’s a brilliant start to the campaign in the Merit League,” he said.
Blues made a number of changes to the team that had completed the South East Conference season with a 5-2 defeat against Milton Keynes Dons. Elvis Bwomono, schoolboy Yonis Farah, Damani Dias and Norman Wabo were all recalled to the starting line-up with Dan Humphreys, Tom Clifford, Tom Rispher and Dan Walker making way.
On a gloopy surface, it took time for both teams to get into their stride, but it was noticeable from the outset how high Southend were pressing up the pitch, putting pressure on their opponents when they were in possession. The first shot arrived in the 12th minute when Renei Batlokwa smashed over from 30 yards after being teed up by the fit-again Wabo.
After 20 minutes, Wabo was picked out by Dias’ sublime reverse pass but, after slipping when delivering his initial shot, he recovered to fire wide with the aid of a deflection. Nine minutes later, Batlokwa flicked the ball into the path of Phillips, who this time saw a fierce attempt blocked by the goalkeeper’s legs.
Bournemouth fizzed a shot across the face of goal on 36 minutes, but Blues were again unfortunate when Joe Bedford drilled a 25-yard effort into gloves of the Cherries custodian five minutes later. However, their hard work was undone with sixty seconds of the opening period remaining when Josh Bexon parried a strong shot into the path of the onrushing Pope, who slotted home comfortably.
Even during first-half stoppage time Blues had an opportunity to go in level, but Phillips’ hoisted cross from the right-hand bye-line went unconverted at the far post. Undeterred, Southend began the second half on the front foot and Joe Mackenzie nodded a Phillips set-piece over the crossbar in the 54th minute.
Huzzey made a positive substitution with the introduction of Walker in place of Lewis Gard just after the hour mark to add a new threat up front but Blues were relieved to see the a close-range Bournemouth header bounce back of the woodwork immediately after the switch, with Bexon making a fine save from the follow-up.
Southend never lost their resolve and, with 20 minutes left, they upped the ante. Phillips was given a chance to get his range with a free-kick from the edge of the ‘D’ in the 70th minute, with his goalbound attempt brilliantly palmed over the crossbar at full-stretch by the Bournemouth goalkeeper, and from the ensuing Phillips corner, an acrobatic Dias half-volley was palmed around the post.
Second-year scholar Phillips continued to pull the strings, and from the next flag-kick he intelligently rolled the ball to Bedford, stationed 30 yards out. Again his drove the ball into the penalty area, with the hard-working Dias this time stabbing over in his efforts to convert from 15 yards out.
Walker rifled a shot at the goalkeeper in the 74th minute but, when he fouled shortly afterwards, there was to be no denying the teenage Shrimpers. Phillips lined up the dead ball, positioned on the edge of the ‘D’, and he swept the ball majestically into the top left-hand corner of the net via the underside of the crossbar to register his 15th goal of the season.
Rather than settle for the draw, Blues continued to throw men forwards, and Wabo warmed the goalkeeper’s gloves in the 80th minute before a succession of set-pieces in the closing stages were scrambled to safety. There were moments, too, when the Southend defence had to hold firm, but the final word went to Walker, who flashed a deflected strike wide deep into injury time.
“I think it would’ve been an injustice if we didn’t get something from the game, if not win the game,” remarked Huzzey. “We don’t settle for a draw. We want to go out and we want to win games. We think we’re the best team in the league, and we think we’ve got some really good players here, so we don’t feel like we need to sit on a draw.”
Southend United U18s: Josh Bexon, Elvis Bwomono (Tom Ripsher, 84), Yonis Farah, Joe Bedford, Joe Mackenzie, Abdul Salami, Damani Dias, Renei Batlokwa, Norman Wabo, Harry Phillips, Lewis Gard (Dan Walker, 61). Substitute not used: Nathan Bishop, Ben Musselwhite, Imani Matthews.
Goals: Phillips (77).
Cautioned: Bedford (61, foul tackle).