Blues Under 18's fall to defeat against Pompey.Southend United U18s 0-3 Portsmouth U18s; Football League Youth Alliance Merit League One; Boots & Laces; Saturday 12th March 2016; Kick-Off 12:00 noon
By Robert Craven
Southend United U18s suffered their first Football League Youth Alliance Merit League One defeat of the season after losing 3-0 to Portsmouth U18s in disappointing fashion at Boots & Laces.
The game was goalless after 78 minutes, but three late goals from the visitors left youth team coach Dave Huzzey lost for words: “I’m really disappointed in the boys. I’m frustrated, and I’m speechless actually because the performance they have put in today was nowhere near good enough. I wouldn’t expect that from an U16s or U15s group, so to get that from the U18s is quite simply unacceptable.”
Huzzey made two changes to the starting line-up with Harry Phillips missing out through injury and Damani Dias dropping to the substitutes’ bench. Harry Daly, on trial from Ipswich Town, made his debut in midfield with Lewis Gard also added to the ranks in the centre of the pitch. Imani Matthews and Norman Wabo led the line for Blues.
First-year scholar Joe Mackenzie was named as captain, perhaps with an eye to the 2016/17 campaign, and he went as close as anyone in a fluorescent yellow shirt to breaking the deadlock with a sixth minute header. The centre-half met Joe Bedford’s swinging near-post delivery but found the Portsmouth goalkeeper equal to the task of palming the ball to safety.
The match was slow to develop any sort of rhythm and Wabo, who was going in search of a 20th competitive goal of the campaign, was unfortunate to see a fierce strike from a Bedford lay-off charged down by a defender. Bedford himself, who had assumed free-kick responsibilities in the absence of Phillips, then saw a 25-yard dead ball attempt blocked.
In between, there was a sign of defensive frailty at the other end when Abdul Salami gave the ball away, but he recovered his composure quickly to close down a forward, who dragged his shot wide of the left-hand post. On 25 minutes, Josh Bexon was called into action for the first time when he made a simple save from a far post header after a corner.
At this stage of the encounter, Blues were pressing high up the pitch in an attempt to force their opponents into an error. A Wabo through-ball was marginally over-hit as he sought to pick out the run of Renei Batlokwa on the half-hour, and a more lofted Bedford pass was plucked out of the air by the goalkeeper ahead of the onrushing Matthews, but this was to be Southend’s best period of the game.
Portsmouth began to put more pressure on their opponents and, aside from a Wabo snapshot that was slashed wide from a narrow angle, the final quarter-of-an-hour was spent largely in the Blues half. Mackenzie made an outstanding intervention to deflect a fierce shot out for a corner to 38 minutes, and he later crucially stole the ball off the toes of a forward bearing down on goal.
Blues needed to stamp their authority on the game early in the second half, but instead they were forced onto the back foot with schoolboy Yonis Farah making a vital challenge in the 53rd minute when the ball had been squared dangerously along the six-yard box. Sixty seconds later, Bexon made a superb fingertip save to push a sharp strike onto the left-hand upright and preserve the goalless scoreline.
Dias was introduced in place of Gard shortly afterwards, and he had an immediate influence on the hour with a wonderful right-wing run. Unfortunately his cross was cleared to safety by a defender and, within a minute, Salami was required to make a goal-line clearance after a Pompey attacker had lifted his shot over the onrushing Bexon.
Ben Musselwhite came on for Matthews, whose intent had been stifled before he hobbled off the pitch with an injury, but Blues fell behind twelve minutes from time. Farah conceded a free-kick, and the right-footed delivery appeared to surprise Bexon as it was swung into the net from 25 yards out with the custodian rooted to the spot.
Southend attacked straight away and Dias was brought down right on the edge of the penalty area, but Mackenzie hooked wide from Bedford’s cross and, within five minutes of going 1-0 down, Blues were staring at a two-goal deficit. Bexon had clawed away a dangerous inswinging corner, but a right-wing centre was not cleared by Elvis Bwomono and that allowed a forward to sweep home at the back post.
Batlokwa had an effort blocked and Wabo fired over from the rebound as Southend tried to get back into the game, but Portsmouth made it 3-0 in the 87th minute. An effort was sent against the crossbar, and the Southend back-line was still furiously reorganising when Bexon had to make a fine save, only for a forward to follow-up and tap home.
Again the goal was followed by a chance for Blues to grab a consolation, but an excellent run by Wabo culminated with the goalkeeper standing up well to block with his legs. A frustrating afternoon ended with Southend dropping below their opponents in the league table, some five points off of leaders Leyton Orient ahead of the visit of Exeter City next Saturday.
“I’m looking for a reaction next weekend. The boys will be in on Sunday, and we’ll watch the game and we’ll go through it bit-by-bit. I expect we’ll get a reaction because of the group of boys we’ve got this season, but I will be harsh on them because that it is nowhere near good enough for this Academy.”
“We’re making massive strides forward as a football club from the first team to U9s. Everyone is stepping forwards, and that performance is not acceptable here. I’ll make sure, in no uncertain terms, that they understand that,” added Huzzey.
Southend United U18s: Josh Bexon, Elvis Bwomono, Yonis Farah, Joe Bedford, Joe Mackenzie, Abdul Salami, Harry Daly, Renei Batlokwa, Norman Wabo, Imani Matthews (Ben Musselwhite, 74), Lewis Gard (Damani Dias, 56). Substitute not used: Nathan Bishop.
Cautioned: Batlokwa (64, foul tackle).