Read the report from the Youth Team's latest game...By Robert Craven
Southend United U18s bounced back from the disappointment of their FA Youth Cup First Round defeat in midweek to record an important away win at AFC Wimbledon in the EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference.
Whilst the memories of the reverse to Leyton Orient will not be easy to erase, a Blues side numbering just two changes from the eleven that lost 6-0 to the O’s did manage to refocus quickly to beat their hosts 2-1 and lift themselves up to fifth in the league table in the process. Imani Matthews and Joe Mackenzie were responsible for scoring the crucial second-half goals in a gutsy display.
Indeed Matthews was one of the players restored to the starting line-up, coming in for Lewis Gard as youth team coach Dave Huzzey elected to provide a strike partner for Sewa Marah in a change of formation. Taylor Curran’s inclusion at centre-back in place of Zak Pianim represented a like-for-like replacement.
Having conceded four goals in the opening period in midweek, Blues will have been pleased that the first half at the Dons’ training ground in New Malden was a cagier affair. The visitors saw plenty of the ball in the early stages of the match, but Wimbledon pressed well and the first half-chance was swept up by the home goalkeeper after Curran had nodded down a Tom Clifford free-kick.
There was an anxious moment in the eleventh minute when Nathan Bishop, under a heavy challenge, was unable to claim a left-wing cross and Dru Yearwood had to skirt around behind the gloveman on the goal-line to clear a shot away from danger, but Wimbledon’s threat was mainly restricted to set-piece opportunities.
Within sixty seconds of his intervention in a defensive role, energetic midfielder Yearwood was soon proving his effective at the other end of the pitch as he won the ball in midfield before seeing his 20-yard drive tipped around the right-hand post. Ten minutes later, a lengthy spell of possession ended with Damani Dias chipping the ball through to the first-year scholar, whose half-volley was well saved.
The play during that move was representative of how the visitors were attempting to break down their opponents, moving the ball patiently side to side and stretching the lines in an attempt to expose any holes in the defence. However, they were also dangerous on the break, and a typically robust run by Sewa Marah ended with his pass, intended for Alex Clark, being intercepted on the edge of the penalty area.
Clark was beginning to become more effective, and with two minutes remaining in the first half he pulled a left-footed shot narrowly wide after successfully challenging for the ball 30 yards out. However, skipper Elvis Bwomono – making his 50th youth team appearance – was required to track his runner before deflecting a shot wide to ensure the two teams went in level at the interval.
An unchanged Blues line-up began the second period on the front foot, with a switch in flank for Dias and Clark aiding their attacking play. Three minutes after the break Dias centred for Matthews, but the dangerous delivery was cut out by a defender whilst, in the 50th minute, Matthews did connect with Clark’s near-post cross, only for a defender to charge the effort down.
Marah over-hit a delivery from the left-hand side in the next few minutes before Clifford combined with Matthews to set up the striker, who slammed his 54th minute strike into the goalkeeper’s gloves from 25 yards out. A rare Wimbledon attack ended with a vicious effort being slashed harmlessly wide, but Blues took the lead just before the hour mark.
Clark was the instigator, tormenting his full-back with a typically tricky run before advancing to the bye-line and cutting the ball back into the six-yard box. The pass may have been intended for Marah, but the ball was diverted into the path of Matthews, who scored his second goal in two starts by firing home clinically from ten yards out.
At the other end Bishop was called upon to make a comfortable save as the Dons tried to get back into the game with a series of substitutions and, despite Clifford and Matthews linking up well again before the latter’s pass for Yearwood was marginally too strong, it was the hosts who enjoyed the majority of the opportunities as the game entered its final quarter.
Blues appeared to be tiring after their midweek efforts, and a left-wing cross was cleared by a watchful Curran in the 70th minute. Lewis Gard replaced Ben Musselwhite to join Eren Kinali – who had come on for Dias – to give Southend more energy in midfield, and the visitors did relieve the pressure briefly when Marah’s right-wing cross skimmed off the head of the onrushing Matthews.
Unfortunately, Wimbledon restored parity in the 81st minute. An attack was launched down the right-hand side and the Blues back-line was temporarily breached, with the ball being cut back from the bye-line for an attacker, who crashed home his shot via the underside of the crossbar.
The teams were level for less than two minutes as Blues responded brilliantly. Kinali got the better of his full-back but his cross was deflected out for a corner, and that allowed Clifford to send in a trademark pinpoint delivery. Mackenzie rose above his marker six yards out to thump a near-post header beyond the goalkeeper and into the net.
Even then Southend had defending to do to maintain their narrow advantage. Bishop made a superb near-post save to keep out a strong shot that had been sent through a crowded penalty area, and then Clifford and Clark both made important tackles to thwart an 89th-minute attack, but Blues remained well-organised defensively to secure the three points. Next up is a trip to Dagenham & Redbridge on Saturday.
Southend United U18s: Nathan Bishop, Elvis Bwomono, Tom Clifford, Ben Musselwhite (Lewis Gard, 75), Joe Mackenzie, Taylor Curran, Alex Clark, Dru Yearwood, Sewa Marah, Imani Matthews, Damani Dias (Eren Kinali, 64). Substitutes not used: Harry Seaden, Zak Pianim, Dan Humphreys.
Goals: Matthews (59), Mackenzie (83)
Cautioned: Yearwood (36, foul tackle)