Report from Saturday's U18s win...
By Robert Craven
Southend United U18s recorded their fourth win in an unbeaten five-match EFL Youth Alliance League South East Conference sequence with a 4-0 triumph over Milton Keynes Dons at Boots & Laces.
Blues are now the form team in the competition having collected 13 points from the last 15 available, having only narrowly missed out on beating league leaders Leyton Orient a week earlier. Their latest success came courtesy of a brace by winger Alex Clark and further efforts from forwards Eren Kinali and Emile Acquah.
Youth team coach Dave Huzzey made four changes to the starting line-up with second-year scholars Ben Musselwhite, Damani Dias and Alex Clark restored to the team in place of Harry Cuthbert, Sewa Marah and Imani Matthews. Full-back Tom Clifford was injured, so Dan Humphreys took his place in the eleven and skipper Elvis Bwomono switched to left-back.
Southend had the first opportunity of the match in the sixth minute after making a bright start to the encounter. Dru Yearwood intercepted a midfield pass and broke clear to fire into goalkeeper Alfie Jones’s gloves, but Blues soon had to be wary of the threat posed by visiting attacker Brandon Thomas-Asante, who fizzed a shot over the crossbar from eight yards out just a couple of moments later.
However, the teenage Shrimpers took the lead in the 13th minute through Kinali, who contributed his third goal of the campaign and his second in successive matches. Lewis Gard won a left-wing corner and delivered the dead ball onto the edge of the six-yard box, from where Kinali powered a header past Jones and into the roof of the net.
MK responded well, with the dangerous Thomas-Asante at the fulcrum of much of their good work. The livewire forward tested Nathan Bishop with a skidding shot that required a full-stretch save after exchanging passes with Bradley Bell, and he was later thwarted by Humphreys, who made a superb sliding tackle as Thomas-Asante wriggled free of Yearwood’s attentions midway through the half.
That jolted Blues back into action, and Clark was unfortunate not to score twice in quick succession in the 24th minute. Having been met by Jones advancing quickly off his goal-line, he was swiftly found by Humphreys in Southend’s next attack. This time his fierce strike was parried out by Jones, who reacted quickly to turn Kinali’s follow-up around the left-hand upright.
Joe Mackenzie – who sported a bandage around his head after colliding with the woodwork at Orient the previous weekend – saw MK captain Oran Jackson effect a good far post block from Gard’s corner before switching his attention to his defensive responsibilities by cutting out a Thomas-Asante cross in the 29th minute as MK attempted to his Blues on the counter-attack.
Clark dragged a 30-yard effort wide of the right-hand post following a well-placed Dias pass on the half-hour mark, but he was soon celebrating his second goal of the season four minutes later. Kinali twice won possession after bringing the ball away from an MK corner, and Yearwood quickly moved play on to Clark on the left flank, who cut inside before firing into the top right-hand corner of the net from 20 yards out.
Within seconds Southend could have extended their advantage as Clark and Dias combined with a high-tempo move that saw the latter’s intended through-ball for Gard marginally over-hit, but in the 38th minute they were thankful for a penalty miss by Thomas-Asante, who had been bundled over clumsily by Mackenzie. The forward wastefully blasted his spot-kick over the crossbar to protect the hosts’ two-goal lead.
MK ended the opening period strongly, and Bwomono’s excellent tackle stopped Andrew Osei-Bonsu from delivering a dangerous cross before the captain’s foul on the same player allowed Thomas-Asante to line up a free-kick. This time he found the target, but Bishop produced an excellent fingertip from a standing start to push the ball over the crossbar.
There was a less frenetic start to the second half, although marauding full-back Humphreys warmed Jones’s gloves within seconds of the restart after running onto Kinali’s pass. Centre-half Taylor Curran nodded a Clark free-kick at the custodian in the 53rd minute and Kinali fired wide from 25 yards as the hosts sought to confirm their ascendancy.
Wayward efforts from Ben Musselwhite at one end and then Thomas-Asante and Joe Evans at the other followed ahead of a third Southend goal in the 70th minute. Emile Acquah had been introduced a quarter-of-an-hour earlier in place of Dias, and he had little trouble in stabbing home Kinali’s right-wing cross from close-range for his second goal in only his fifth appearance for the club.
That goal broke MK’s resolve, and in the 77th minute Jackson skied over his own crossbar from Humphreys’ teasing centre before Curran’s back-post header was tipped wide by the goalkeeper. Clark took the next flag-kick short, latching onto Gard’s return pass on the edge of the penalty area before thrashing the ball into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
Gard was prevented from registering a deserved goal himself when Jones dived bravely at his feet as he tried unsuccessfully to bundle home Acquah’s forward pass, and the final action of the match saw Bishop deservedly preserve his third clean sheet of the campaign with a smart near-post stop from Thomas-Asante. Blues travel to Barnet on Saturday seeking to close the gap further on second-placed Cambridge United.
Southend United U18s: Nathan Bishop, Dan Humphreys, Elvis Bwomono, Ben Musselwhite, Joe Mackenzie, Taylor Curran, Lewis Gard, Dru Yearwood (Harry Cuthbert, 80), Eren Kinali, Damani Dias (Emile Acquah, 56), Alex Clark. Substitutes not used: Harry Seaden, Yonis Farah, Zak Pianim.
Goals: Kinali (13), Clark (34, 78), Acquah (70).
Boots & Laces
Saturday 26th November 2016