Southend United U18s collected their first three points of the season with a 1-0 EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference triumph over Stevenage on Saturday.
Blues had started 2017/18 with narrow defeats to Northampton Town and Milton Keynes Dons, but Sewa Marah’s second goal of the current campaign, and his 17th in total for the youth team, was enough to earn victory for Dave Huzzey’s team in Hertfordshire.
Huzzey had made three personnel changes to the side that had lost by the odd goal in seven against MK Dons, with Marah preferred in a central role to Emile Acquah, who had netted twice in that reverse. Terrell Egbri took Marah’s wide position, with Dan Humphreys – back from a three-match suspension – and Ide Osimeh named as full-backs instead of Marley Hutchings and Yonis Farah.
Blues made a slow start to the game as the hosts dominated the early proceedings. The opening chance came for Stevenage just two minutes in when Theo Sackey found Claudio Ofosu in space but the strikers' tame effort was easily fielded by Nathan Bishop in the Southend goal. On five minutes the impressive playmaker Andronicos Georgiou's left-footed free-kick saw Bishop spill the ball, but he just managed to retrieve it before it crossed the line.
The first chance for the visitors fell to Egbri, although he could only find the side-netting with his attempt. Against that backdrop, and somewhat against the run of play, Blues took the lead after 12 minutes when Eren Kinali supplied Marah and the striker jinked passed two defenders before beating Harry Payne in the Stevenage goal with some aplomb.
Bishop was again called into action on 22 minutes when a great through-ball from Sam Svemba released the dangerous Georgiou but the Blues custodian blocked the shot with his legs. A minute later Bishop collected a corner and was promptly bundled into the net by Charley O'Keefe; the ball crossed the line but was ruled out for a clear foul.
The second-year shotstopper again denied the hosts on the half-hour mark when Alex Taylor played in Georgiou, who looked offside, but when no flag was raised Bishop spread himself to deny Stevenage an equaliser and, despite having less of the possession, Blues could have gone into the break 2-0 up when Marah burst clean through just before the whistle only to scuff his shot well wide.
After the break Blues noticeably picked up the tempo and began to dominate themselves. Egbri had a shot turned away for corner and moments later Kinali headed narrowly wide from a Jon Benton free-kick. On 57 minutes Benton himself had a great chance to score which could only be parried by the Stevenage goalkeeper before somehow being hacked away to safety.
There was a lengthy hold-up in play while Zak Pianim and Theo Sackey were treated following a clash of heads. A crucial chance fell to Marah on 66 minutes when Stevenage substitute Ali Omar misjudged a header and the Southend striker was one-on-one with Stevenage's replacement custodian Ryan Schmid. The giant goalkeeper did enough to put Marah off his stride and the ball drifted wide.
Egbri was treated for cramp but could not continue and was replaced by Acquah, and a bizarre incident followed in the 80th minute when the hardworking Matt Rush appeared to be fouled in the penalty area but the referee pulled play back for a Blues free-kick from an apparent earlier infringement. Rush then also went down with cramp and, after attempting to struggle on, had to be replaced by Miles Mitchell-Nelson.
A dramatic period of injury time ultimately determined the result. In the 95th minute a route one goal-kick from Bishop found Acquah in space and the tall striker deftly lobbed Schmid, only to see his effort hit the post. A minute later Taylor Curran was booked for tugging the shirt of Stevenage skipper Charley O'Keefe.
The resultant set-piece was initially cleared by Acquah but, when the ball came back into the area, Stevenage had a huge shout for a penalty as Pianim went in heavily on Marcus Goldbourne. The referee waved away their shouts and promptly blew the full-time whistle. After the late penalty scare Blues would have been delighted with a hard-fought three points to open their league account for the season and they next host Luton Town on Tuesday (1:00pm kick-off).
Southend United U18s: Nathan Bishop, Dan Humphreys, Ide Osimeh, Harry Cuthbert, Taylor Curran, Zak Pianim, Eren Kinali, Jon Benton, Sewa Marah, Matt Rush (Miles Mitchell-Nelson, 90), Terrell Egbri (Emile Aquah, 78). Unused substitutes: Marley Hutchings, Dan Confrey, O'Shane Stewart.