Blues U18's play out score draw with the GreciansSouthend United U18s 2-2 Exeter City U18s; Football League Youth Alliance Merit League One; Boots & Laces; Saturday 19th March 2016; Kick-Off: 12 noon.
By Robert Craven
Southend United U18s battled back from a two-goal half-time deficit to earn a 2-2 draw against Exeter City on Saturday.
Blues had appeared set to lose their second straight encounter at Boots & Laces, but goals from Norman Wabo and Tom Clifford ensured that they recorded a deserved draw according to youth team coach Dave Huzzey. “It’s a bit of a cliché, but it was a game of two halves," he said.
"I felt in the first half we didn’t do enough with work-rate and reaction; I think they reacted quicker than us to every second ball. At half-time I honestly believed that we could go on and win the game; we didn’t in the end, but we definitely had chances to and in the second half there was only one team that was going to score," he added.
Southend welcomed defender Clifford back into the side at the expense of schoolboy Yonis Farah whilst Damani Dias stepped in to replace Imani Matthews and Harry Phillips came in for namesake trialist Daly. The hosts made a bright start and were noticeably more protective in possession early on than they had been in the second half against Portsmouth in their previous outing.
However, that work was undone in the sixth minute when goalkeeper Josh Bexon's clearance was collected by an Exeter attacker and sent straight back into the net with the aid of a deflection to make it 1-0.
Blues looked for a quick response, but a Dias cross was clawed off of the head of the onrushing Wabo at the back post in the seventh minute and, when midfielder Renei Batlokwa was helped from the pitch after suffering an injury making a tackle inside his own penalty area in the 20th minute, Southend had still been unable to penetrate the City defence.
Batlokwa's withdrawal meant that winger Alex Clark made a welcome return from his own six-month spell on the sidelines through injury, but the hosts remained on the back foot initially and Bexon was called upon to superbly beat away a fierce near-post strike at his near post.
Exeter continued to attack, with an angled drive deflected across the face of goal and another snapshot flying over, and they doubled their lead in the 32nd minute when the ball was worked inside from the left flank and an attacker sent a dipping 15-yard effort over Bexon.
There had been sporadic openings for the Shrimpers between the Grecians goals - Phillips arrowed a shot into the gloves of the goalkeeper and Wabo saw a deflection divert his attempt off-target - but they were indebted to Bexon for a flying fingertip save two minutes before half-time that kept the deficit manageable.
Wabo ended the half by determinedly beating a defender to a long ball and cheating it into his own path, only for the goalkeeper to read his intentions and apprehend the forward on the edge of the penalty area, but he was to have more success in the opening minute of the second period. The second-year collected the ball 30 yards out and advanced to the edge of the penalty before rifling his shot beyond the goalkeeper to halve Southend's arrears.
A 20th goal of the season for the young marksman gave Southend hope, but they were dealt a blow in the 53rd minute when Phillips limped off injured. Daly was his high-energy replacement and Blues scrapped hard for every loose ball. Joe Bedford was driving them on in this respect until the 67th minute when a challenge in midfield left him stricken and he had to be stretchered from the field.
It was a distressing sight for a key component of a side who had just gone close to an equaliser when Clifford's 25-yard free-kick shaved the right-hand post. However, that sighter had allowed the first-year full-back to get his range, and his 70th minute dead ball attempt flew beyond the Exeter custodian to level the scores.
Blues looked to capitalise on their comeback and a 30-yard Daly effort was saved in the 73rd minute before Gard set up Dias for a 25-yard strike that was dragged wide of the target. Both teams continued to seek a winning goal and, although Clifford went closest when his marauding run culminated in a fine 30-yard drive that was turned around the post, neither could find one. Nonetheless, Huzzey was encouraged ahead of the visit of Leyton Orient on Saturday
“I’ve spoken to Danny at Orient and they’ve been doing really well; they haven’t lost a game yet so it will be a brilliant test for us. Orient were a big, physical, strong side and they beat us 4-0 in the away game so we won’t be looking for revenge but hopefully we can show a little bit more than we did that day," he declared.
Southend United U18s: Josh Bexon, Elvis Bwomono, Tom Clifford, Joe Bedford (Ben Musselwhite, 69), Joe Mackenzie, Abdul Salami, Damani Dias, Renei Batlokwa (Alex Clark, 20), Norman Wabo, Harry Phillips (Harry Daly, 53), Lewis Gard. Substitutes not used: Nathan Bishop, Tom Ripsher.
Goals: Wabo (46), Clifford (70).