U18's suffer narrow loss to BarnetSouthend United’s hopes of claiming the Football League Youth Alliance South East Conference title were all but extinguished after an entertaining 3-2 defeat against Barnet U18s at The Hive.
Blues fought back after finding themselves 2-0 down after just eleven minutes of their first match in 2016 as Norman Wabo and Joe Mackenzie both scored before half-time.
However, a goal six minutes after the break gave the Bees victory and left Southend eight points behind leaders Luton Town with just three matches remaining.
With club captain Sonny Coutts a long-term injury victim and vice-captain Abdul Salami suspended for one match after his FA Youth Cup dismissal against Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park, Harry Phillips skippered the side whilst Tom Ripsher started alongside Mackenzie at centre-back. Ben Musselwhite and Damani Dias replaced Renei Batkokwa and Lewis Gard in midfield.
The hosts took the lead in the seventh minute after breaking away down the right-hand side. The ball was crossed to the back post, where the left-sided attacker cut inside Elvis Bwomono and rifled a shot into the bottom right-hand corner of Josh Bexon’s net.
Four minutes later Barnet had doubled their advantage. Again the ball was moved quickly down the right flank and, after a winger had got to the dead-ball line, the ball was cut back into the path of a team-mate, who volleyed home from close-range to rock the visitors.
Southend steeled themselves, and Otuyo had to race off of his goal-line to apprehend Dan Walker after Norman Wabo had tried to thread the ball into his path. Then, in the 17th minute, Tom Clifford cut inside from the left touchline before seeing a right-footed effort deflected out for a corner.
Within sixty seconds of that opening, Blues had pulled a goal back.
Harry Phillips was the provider, picking out the run of Wabo with a precise pass and the forward did the rest, clinically arrowing the ball into the bottom left-hand corner from the edge of the penalty area.
The goal was Wabo’s 16th of the current campaign and took him one ahead of team-mate Walker as leading goalscorer.
Barnet struck the woodwork in the 26th minute with another attempt from distance, but Blues were going toe-to-toe with their opponents, and they would soon be rewarded with an equaliser in the 35th minute.
The goal came about as a result of excellent play from Walker, who made a decoy run towards corner-taker Phillips, dragging defenders out of position in the process.
That allowed the stand-in skipper to roll the ball to Bedford, who was now in space on the edge of the penalty area to dink the ball into the feet of Mackenzie and the defender juggled the pass before thumping a shot into the back of the net with aplomb.
Two minutes later it looked as though Wabo would nudge the visitors in front after he controlled Bedford’s pass on the left-hand side of the penalty area. However, his curling shot was brilliantly tipped around the post by Otuyo.
The teams went in level at half-time, and it was Blues who fashioned the opening opportunity of the second period when Walker rose to meet a Phillips corner and Otuyo did well to push the ball up and then over the bar.
That save grew in importance in the 51st minute when a Barnet forward was afforded space and time to pick his spot on the edge of the penalty area and he arced the ball into the top right-hand corner.
Youth team coach Dave Huzzey sent on Batlokwa and Imani Matthews in quick succession for Musselwhite and Wabo, and Southend threw everything at the hosts in the next quarter-of-an-hour.
A Clifford free-kick was blocked and Dias fired at Otuyo but the best chance fell to Batlokwa, who thundered the ball against the crossbar from another Phillips set-piece in the 63rd minute.
20 minutes later Batlokwa’s acrobatic attempt to turn home a Phillips corner at the near post was skewed wide, but the game was becoming stretched and Clifford was called upon in a defensive capacity to make a goal-saving tackle on the edge of the six-yard box after a Barnet forward had sprinted clear on the counter-attack.
Bedford twice tried his luck from distance, smashing a Ripsher flick-on over and then dragging wide at the end of the 90 minutes but, despite a prolonged period of stoppage time, there was no way back for Blues
Youth Team Coach, Dave Huzzey:
“I’m frustrated with the performance in the first 25 minutes, I thought we were really poor.
“However, credit to the boys for turning things around and getting themselves out of the position that they had got themselves in. In the second half, I thought we had enough to go out and win the game, but we came out after half-time and the timing of the goal killed us a little bit.”
Southend United U18s: Josh Bexon, Elvis Bwomono, Tom Clifford, Ben Musselwhite (Renei Batlokwa, 52), Joe Mackenzie, Tom Ripsher, Dan Walker, Joe Bedford, Norman Wabo (Imani Matthews, 56), Harry Phillips, Damani Dias (Lewis Gard, 84). Substitutes not used: Nathan Bishop, Perry Hirst.
Goals: Wabo (18), Mackenzie (35).
Cautioned: Walker (29, foul tackle), Clifford (80, foul tackle).