Read the report from Blues' U18s win
By Robert Craven
Southend United U18s registered a third straight victory in the EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference with perhaps their most complete performance of the season in winning 2-0 at Dagenham & Redbridge.
Blues have lifted themselves to fifth in the league table, and although this success did not move them any higher in the standings, results elsewhere mean that they are now just five points off second spot. Harry Cuthbert, with a sensational strike in the first half, and Lewis Gard, who netted a second-half spot-kick, scored the goals for Dave Huzzey’s side.
Both Cuthbert and Gard were celebrating being restored to the starting line-up following the 2-1 win at AFC Wimbledon seven days previously. Cuthbert came in for Ben Musselwhite, whilst Gard replaced Damani Dias. Eren Kinali also began the game instead of Alex Clark, whilst Imani Matthews kept his place after scoring in each of his last two league outings.
Following a moment’s silence in remembrance of the fallen, Blues were straight out of the blocks at the Old Parkonians ground in Fairlop. Elvis Bwomono delivered a right-wing cross into the penalty area in the second minute and, when that was cleared, Dru Yearwood lashed high and wide from the edge of the ‘D’.
Bwomono and Gard both almost put Sewa Marah clear in the opening stages, and when a Tom Clifford cross was deflected in the ninth minute, the Dagenham goalkeeper did well to stay alert and tip the ball wide of the left-hand upright. After that, Southend’s crisp passing temporarily deserted them, but good defensive organisation prevented Nathan Bishop’s goal from coming under threat.
Midway through the opening period, Blues’ poise was restored. Cuthbert fired the ball into the feet of Gard in the 24th minute, and he teed up Matthews for a shot on the turn that was sliced into the goalkeeper’s gloves. Sixty seconds later Sewa Marah used his strength to hold off a defender and then roll his marker before firing wide, but the visitors were looking increasingly impressive.
In the 27th minute, a booming Bishop goal-kick was controlled by Kinali, who saw a fierce strike spilled by the goalkeeper. Unfortunately for Blues, Matthews was unable to tap home the rebound as the ball spun agonisingly out of his reach. A minute later Dru Yearwood combined with Marah to set up Cuthbert, but he smashed wide from 25 yards out.
The midfielder was to find his range in the 33rd minute as he gave Southend the lead with his first youth team goal. This time Gard instigated the move, passing to Marah, who rolled the ball into Cuthbert’s feet on the edge of the penalty area and the midfielder made no mistake with a sweetly-struck shot into the top right-hand corner of the net.
Blues were not about to relieve the pressure on the Dagenham goal, and almost immediately Joe Mackenzie nodded a Gard free-kick on target, but the goalkeeper saved well at the base of his right-hand post. Then, in the 37th minute, Cuthbert was put clear by Marah’s slide-rule pass, but his one-on-one attempt was blocked by the custodian’s legs.
The first-year scholar continued to pose problems for the hosts, and after fine build-up play by Gard, Kinali and Bwomono he curled at the goalkeeper from twelve yards out. With five minutes remaining before half-time, Matthews saw a shot deflected right across the face of goal and then, on the stroke of the interval, Marah nodded a Gard set-piece at the goalkeeper.
It was a brilliant first-half display from the Shrimpers, who had to contend with heavy conditions and persistent precipitation, and the only danger was that they had not converted their dominance into more than a one-goal advantage. However, they showed that they retained their hunger when Gard was presented with possession two minutes after the restart, but Matthews couldn’t get a shot away.
Dagenham were not out of the game, and a 50th minute effort was fizzed across the face of goal, but Blues were far more threatening, and Yearwood and Gard linked up to set up Marah, who was shepherded away from goal by a defender. Alex Clark replaced Kinali shortly before the hour mark and Southend continued to attack, almost doubling their lead in the 62nd minute.
Cuthbert sent an inch-perfect pass to Clark from the left flank, and the winger’s cheeky chip from the ‘D’ almost caught out the goalkeeper, who did superbly to back-pedal and turn the ball onto the crossbar. Clark followed up with a header and then a close-range volley, but the shotstopper parried both attempts to keep the advantage down to a single goal.
And the Daggers number one was not finished there as he was required to push out Marah’s powerful header from a Clifford corner in the 65th minute before, some six minutes later, he advanced off his goal-line to apprehend Marah and stop the striker from smashing in Clark’s through-ball on the counter-attack.
Bishop was finally called into action in the 73rd minute when he made a fine save to palm away a fiercely-struck 20-yard free-kick, but Blues were soon celebrating a second goal. Twice Gard won the ball in midfield before offloading to Matthews. The forward’s return pass was collected and, when Gard was tripped in the penalty area, he converted the twelve-yarder to register his ninth goal of the campaign.
Huzzey made a triple substitution, introducing Musselwhite, Yonis Farah and Zak Pianim and, although an ambitious volleyed effort from Bwomono flew wide, Blues had to be alert to preserve their clean sheet. Bwomono tracked a forward well and deflected a shot wide, then Bishop made a couple of smart stops in the closing moments as Southend won ahead of a trip to Leyton Orient next weekend.
Southend United U18s: Nathan Bishop, Elvis Bwomono, Tom Clifford (Yonis Farah, 81), Harry Cuthbert, Joe Mackenzie, Taylor Curran (Zak Pianim, 81), Eren Kinali (Alex Clark, 57, Dru Yearwood, Sewa Marah, Imani Matthews (Ben Musselwhite, 81), Lewis Gard. Substitute not used: Harry Seaden.
Goals: Cuthbert (33), Gard (77, pen).
Cautioned: Cuthbert (90, foul tackle).