Report from the latest EFL Youth Alliance Merit League One game...
Southend United U18s suffered their first defeat in five matches as a 2-1 win for EFL Youth Alliance Merit League One leaders Newport County helped the Exiles extend their advantage over the chasing pack.
Josh Williams and Joe Hunt scored inside the opening twelve minutes for the hosts at the Newport International Sports Village, but Blues were revitalised by Dru Yearwood’s strike shortly after the half-hour mark and put in a tremendous effort to get level. Good game-management in the second period then helped County to record their fifth win in six games.
Youth team coach Dave Huzzey made two changes to the starting line-up. Skipper Elvis Bwomono was restored to the team at right-back in place of Dan Humphreys, whilst Zak Pianim returned at centre-back at the expense of Joe Mackenzie, who was suffering an injury. Blues again made the lengthy trip overnight, training at Reading on the way down to south Wales on Friday.
Southend enjoyed large swatches of possession throughout the opening period, but they fell behind shortly after the Newport goalkeeper claimed a Sewa Marah cross in the fifth minute. The shotstopper set away an attacker down the left flank, and his centre was poked beneath Nathan Bishop by Williams.
Within seven minutes Blues were further behind. This time the ball was moved patiently through the thirds by the Exiles, who waited until the right time to release Hunt through the middle. The visitors appealed for offside as Taylor Curran stepped up, but the assistant referee refused to raise his flag and the forward slid his shot past Bishop.
Worse may have followed, but in the 17th minute Pianim effected an important block to stop another Exiles strike from raining in on goal, and Southend were able to regroup after that. The first signs that a revival might be possible came when Yearwood attempted to find Eren Kinali with a chipped pass, but he marginally over-hit the ball in the 23rd minute and the Newport goalkeeper scooped it up.
Marah then bulldozed his way in off the left flank before his ferocious attempt was blocked, and Southend were angered when the referee failed to play an advantage and Kinali lofted the ball over an exposed home goalkeper and into the net.
However, the Shrimpers were undeterred and Yearwood managed to pick out the run of Kinali, who failed to truly connect with his shot, allowing the ball to be cleared to safety. However, from the resultant Bwomono throw, Marah forced the County custodian to turn away a strong and acrobatic back-post volley.
The table-toppers came back again at Southend, with Pianim brilliantly heading clear when stationed besides the right-hand post. From Newport’s next attack, a right-wing corner was glanced inside the far post, but this time the referee ruled out the effort for a foul on Bishop.
That was just the boost Blues needed, and they then created their best chance in the 32nd minute, which Yearwood calmly finished. A long kick forward was flicked on by Marah on the edge of the ‘D’, and Kinali read the dropping ball to shift it into the path of the first-year scholar, who curled it beautifully into the net to halve the deficit.
The intensity of the match was ratcheted up another notch, and Marah cut in from the left again in the 35th minute, only to then thrash over from 25 yards out. Schoolboy O’Shane Stewart, who was unable to find the pockets of space that had marked his full debut against Swindon Town, nonetheless drew a foul shortly afterwards and Tom Clifford curled into the goalkeeper’s gloves from the ensuing free-kick.
Southend could feel content at the interval in the knowledge that they were back in the contest, but the second period began in much more circumspect fashion. Stewart almost found Marah with a pass, but the forward was uncharacteristically nudged off the ball and the chance was snuffed out.
By this stage, Newport had begun managing the game, legitimately, taking their time over restarts and breaking up the flow of the match. This caused Southend to get frustrated, and they couldn’t fashion as many chances as they had threatened in the first half.
Matt Rush’s first involvement after being introduced as a 59th-minute substitute for Stewart was a defensive one as he hooked a dangerous cross away from an attacker and out for a corner at the far post, but County continued to push on and a volley was fired marginally wide with a little over 20 minutes remaining.
Curran was caught out when an attacker nipped the ball away from him in the 72nd minute, but Clifford read the game expertly and managed to scoot across the six-yard box to clear a dangerous centre, whilst another opportunity soon fell to the hosts when a right-wing cross was steered narrowly off-target.
During the final fifteen minutes Blues tried to hit back; Kinali nodded over from a Clifford free-kick and Marah over-hit a cross from the left after being sent clear by Yearwood. Kinali was then presented with a better chance as he latched onto Emile Acquah’s pass, but he snatched at the opportunity and frustratingly sent the shot wide as Southend fell marginally short of sharing the spoils.
Southend United U18s: Nathan Bishop, Elvis Bwomono, Tom Clifford, Harry Cuthbert, Zak Pianim, Taylor Curran, Eren Kinali, Dru Yearwood, Emile Acquah, O’Shane Stewart (Matt Rush, 59), Sewa Marah. Substitutes not used: Harry Seaden, Lewis Gard, Sam Knock.
Goal: Yearwood (32).
Cautioned: Clifford (42, foul tackle).