Report from U18s draw with Leyton Orient
By Robert Craven
First-half goals by Tom Clifford and Eren Kinali, plus Nathan Bishop’s second-half penalty save, helped Southend United U18s to claim an impressive 2-2 draw away to unbeaten EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference leaders Leyton Orient.
Clifford gave Blues the lead in the ninth minute with a well-controlled effort from the edge of the penalty area, but Tristan Abrahams equalised with a clinical finish midway through the opening period. Kinali then poked the visitors back in front in first-half stoppage time, only for substitute Charles Clayden to level again late on after Bishop had denied fellow replacement Sam Dalby from twelve yards.
Southend arrived at Whitbread’s Sports Ground in Woodford Green full of confidence after registering three consecutive league victories, but they also made the short journey with some trepidation in the knowledge that their hosts had recorded a one-sided 6-0 victory at Roots Hall in The FA Youth Cup just 17 days previously.
The contrast in the two performances by Blues was stark, and they began the game brightly. There appeared to be a definite intent not to be dictated to by the O’s, and Taylor Curran swivelled to send a second-minute strike whistling past the left-hand post from Clifford’s deep corner kick. Five minutes later, goalkeeper Jonathan Archer had to burst off his line to intercept ahead of Imani Matthews.
Orient had barely managed to get into Southend’s half when Blues took the lead. Kinali, who was a useful outlet on the right flank throughout the match, won a corner and Clifford’s initial delivery was cleared back to the full-back, who had made his way around the apex of the penalty area. Positioned 20 yards from goal, and with the ball dropping awkwardly, Clifford dexterously fired into the top left-hand corner.
It was the perfect start for the Shrimpers, but the O’s responded well. They managed to begin to impose themselves on the game, and skipper Abrahams went narrowly wide after a quarter-of-an-hour when he met Pat Adamson’s left-wing cross with an overhead bicycle kick. Eight minutes later Abrahams’ left-wing run was brought to an abrupt halt by Curran’s excellent sliding challenge.
However, the homesters did restore parity in the 25th minute. Sewa Marah gave away possession to Steven Alzate on the halfway line, and the midfielder found Abrahams with a superbly-weighted through-ball. There was still much to do for the forward, but he made little fuss over whacking an unstoppable effort past Bishop and into the roof of the net.
Orient were on top, and Ruel Sotitiou sent a shot inches over the crossbar from the edge of the penalty area on the half-hour mark before Andrew Camilo’s close-range attempt drew a fine save from Bishop at his near post. In the process, Southend’s task was made much harder as experienced central defender Joe Mackenzie appeared to collide with the post and had to be replaced by Zak Pianim.
Pianim teamed up with Curran in an all-first-year central defence, but the pair organised well and Blues were able to limit Orient’s opportunities. Then, as the opening period inched towards to drawing to a close, Southend fought back onto the front foot. Bwomono’s flick-on from a Clifford corner wasn’t anticipated by Marah at the far post, but the forward was soon causing havoc himself.
Marah’s powerful run saw him cut back and send a dangerous cross into the penalty area. Unfortunately, Lewis Gard couldn’t read a deflection and Arthur was able to sweep up. Then, in the fourth minute of time added on, Blues edged ahead again. Matthews made an incision deep into Orient territory, eventually finding Kinali on the right of the penalty area, and he steered a sublime finish into the opposite corner.
Having squeezed all that entertainment into the first half, Southend had to go through it all again after the interval. The O’s had plenty of attacking threat, especially once Josh Koroma and Dalby had been introduced just before the hour mark, but there was always the suspicion that Blues could get at their defence and source further goals.
From one Southend corner, in the 51st minute, Orient attempted to break, but Dru Yearwood, having initially lost out to Camilo, tracked the winger all the way back to the edge of his own penalty area, won the ball and then sprung Marah away down the left flank on the counter-attack. Four minutes later Marah set Kinali up 20 yards from goal, but the Blues attacker fired over.
Kinali, awash with confidence after scoring his second goal of the season, epitomised Southend’s work-rate on 57 minutes when he stole the ball from Toby Stevenson on the edge of his own penalty area and travelled all the way to the byeline at the opposite end of the pitch. Seconds later Gard slashed wide from the ‘D’ as Blues sought to extend their lead.
Damani Dias replaced Matthews midway through the second half as Southend opted to give Orient something different to think about in their defensive third but, at the other end, Dalby earned a penalty when the referee adjudged that he had been tripped by Clifford. Dalby took the spot-kick himself, but his low effort was pushed out by Bishop, who saved his second twelve-yarder of the campaign.
From the ensuing Adamson corner, Clifford was positioned well besides the right-hand post to clear Dan Happe’s powerful header off the goal-line, and it was not until the 77th minute that Southend’s resistance was broken. Dalby stole the ball from Yearwood on the right-hand side and he picked out Clayden, who arrowed his finish across Bishop and in off the left-hand post.
It was a cruel blow for the determined Blues, who responded superbly. Harry Cuthbert’s ferocious shot was charged down and Yearwood saw a deflected effort clutched by Arthur, whilst at the other end Bishop made a fine save with his outstretched left hand to keep out a strong Koroma strike.
The final ten minutes were set up to be an end-to-end affair, and Bwomono’s right-wing cross for Yearwood culminated in the midfielder’s attempt being blocked by Happe. Bishop then thwarted Alzate and Clayden skied a close-range finish from Dalby’s square pass in the 85th minute as Blues attempted to become just the second team to deny the O’s victory this term, and they ended strongly.
Indeed, the visitors could have snatched success when Dias drew a foul on the edge of the ‘D’ and Gard lined up the resultant free-kick, but the shot deflected wide off the defensive wall and Yearwood had to get back to clear Alzxate’s centre from underneath the crossbar. It was a breathless conclusion totally in keeping with an outstanding encounter which eventually ended with the two teams sharing the spoils.
Southend United U18s: Nathan Bishop, Elvis Bwomono, Tom Clifford, Harry Cuthbert (Ben Musselwhite, 87), Joe Mackenzie (Zak Pianim, 38), Taylor Curran, Eren Kinali, Dru Yearwood, Sewa Marah, Imani Matthews (Damani Dias 67), Lewis Gard. Substitutes not used: Harry Seaden, Yonis Farah.
Goals: Clifford (9), Kinali (45+4).
Cautioned: Clifford (66, foul tackle), Pianim (90+5, foul tackle).