Saturday's EFL Youth Alliance Merit League One report...
By Robert Craven
Southend United U18s suffered a second successive EFL Youth Alliance Merit League One defeat as Cambridge United came from behind to win 3-1 at the Clare College Sports Ground on Saturday.
A youthful Blues side had looked well-placed to bounce back from their defeat against Newport County before Easter when Emile Acquah nodded them in front early on but Tom Knowles levelled with a free-kick shortly after half-time and Stevan Shaw put the U's ahead before a second from Knowles - deep into stoppage time - enhanced the hosts' advantage.
Goalkeeper Nathan Bishop captained a Southend side which, with the exception of trialist Michael Klass, will all be eligible to play next season. Alongside Klass, a midfielder formerly with Queens Park Rangers, defender Miles Mitchell-Nelson made his competitive debut for the U18s, whilst another schoolboy, Matt Rush, was handed his first start.
Cambridge were quickly out of the blocks and skipper Bishop was relieved when a left-wing centre was prodded against the outside of the right-hand post by a U's attacker inside the opening sixty seconds. However, the teenage Shrimpers soon found their feet and they celebrated taking the lead in the tenth minute.
The source of the goal, as it so often has been in 2017, was towering centre-forward Acquah, who used his reach to his advantage to meet Yonis Farah's right-wing corner. Acquah stooped to meet the ball ahead of a gaggle of defenders and powered his header into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
The goal added to a brace against the U's in January and, once Bishop had moved smartly off his goal-line to block a shot with his legs, Blues began to look more assured. Eren Kinali's cross was tipped off Acquah's head by the Cambridge goalkeeper, and the forward then hurried a defender into a clearance.
Rush was the beneficiary of more high pressing from Acquah in the 27th minute when the Cambridge custodian misplaced his clearance and the youngster was presented with an opportunity to catch him off his line, but the attempted lob was saved. Four minutes later the pair combined to set up Kinali, but he drilled his effort straight at the goalkeeper.
The home side responded with a good chance fizzed over from 15 yards out and then Bishop making good ground to his right to save a curling and dipping set-piece. Klass was nudged off the ball as he was about to unload a shot from Rush's through-ball five minutes before the break, but the half ended with Cambridge hitting the woodwork with an attempt from the edge of the penalty area.
Blues made the better start to the second period, with Kinali dragging a shot wide from 25 yards out following more good work from Rush, and Acquah guiding his effort across the face of goal in the 48th minute. Cambridge again tried to force Southend into the back foot, and a whipped strike flew over a minute later.
Rush was responsible for instigating his side's attempts to increase the advantage, and his persistent run ended with Acquah shooting tamely at the goalkeeper before another strong showing culminated in Kinali slipping over when well-placed to test the goalkeeper.
However, Blues were hit by an equaliser ten minutes into the second half after Farah had tripped an attacker in the 'D'. It seemed as though the set-piece might be too close to hinder the visitors, but Knowles managed to find space in the Southend wall to force the dead ball past Bishop and into the bottom left-hand corner.
The Shrimpers wasted no time in trying to source a reply, with Acquah flicking a Farah free-kick over and then the Cambridge shotstopper being forced into an outstanding double save before the hour mark. Kinali was first to be denied as the gloveman pushed out his rasping shot before Dan Humphreys leathered the follow-up goalwards, necessitating a parried stop.
On 62 minutes the goalkeeper made another fine save, tipping over Klass' 20-yard strike from a Marah pass before Cambridge took the lead midway through the half. This time a free-kick from the halfway line was chipped down the left-hand side and Shaw cut inside both Humphreys and Taylor Curran to fire home.
Terrell Egbri was introduced for his debut in place of Marah, and team-mate Farah swiftly set-up Kinali, but the Cambridge defence scrambled the ball to safety. Blues continued to throw everything at their hosts, and Acquah just failed to connect with a Klass cross before Dru Yearwood smashed over.
Southend's desperation to stop their opponents from scoring a third saw Yearwood and former Ryan back-liner Mitchell-Nelson cautioned for fouls, but Blues couldn't find an equaliser, with Kinali repeatedly drilling crosses into the six-yard box, only for Acquah to miss out with a lunge and the goalkeeper to then tip another centre off Rush's toe-caps.
Southend were made to pay for their profligacy in the third minute of stoppage time when Knowles broke away following a Blues free-kick and spotted Bishop out of his goal, curling the ball into the unguarded net from distance to make it 3-1. Bishop made an impressive block as the match continued, but the match ended on a sour note when Humphreys was dismissed following a coming-together by the corner flag.
Southend United U18s: Nathan Bishop, Dan Humphreys, Yonis Farah, Michael Klass, Miles Mitchell-Nelson, Taylor Curran, Eren Kinali, Dru Yearwood, Emile Acquah, Matt Rush, Sewa Marah (Terrell Egbri, 73). Substitutes not used: Harry Seadon, O’Shane Stewart, Chay Cooper, Sam Knock.
Goal: Acquah (10).
Cautioned: Marah (45, foul tackle), Yearwood (86, foul tackle), Mitchell-Nelson (87, foul tackle).