Northampton Town U18s 2-1 Southend United U18s
Southend United U18s found themselves frustrated by hosts Northampton Town as they kicked off the 2017/18 EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference season with a 2-1 defeat.
Morgan Roberts gave the Cobblers the lead during the first half, but Blues drew level when Zak Pianim slid in to score midway through the second period. Within two minutes Northampton were back in front as Lewis Irwin headed home, and Dave Huzzey’s side were unable to recover.
Huzzey named a strong team that was missing suspended full-back Dan Humphreys, whilst captain Harry Cuthbert lost out to O’Shane Stewart in the centre of the park. Centre-half Taylor Curran was handed the captain’s armband with Cuthbert joining Sewa Marah, Miles Mitchell-Nelson and Northern Ireland youth international goalkeeper Callum Taylor on the substitutes’ bench.
First-year shotstopper Harry Seaden was called into action within the first minute of the match when he turned a near-post strike wide, but a breathless opening saw chances created at both ends of the pitch and Emile Acquah drew a free-kick for the visitors in the second minute, although Jon Benton’s delivery was nodded wide by Pianim.
Blues were not able to command possession as well as they had at times during their pre-season campaign, and instead appeared reliant on set-pieces in the early stages. Benton and Yonis Farah sent a couple of corners into the Northampton penalty area, but on each occasion they were dealt with by the hosts.
In the 18th minute, the Cobblers moved ahead. A left-wing corner was sent into the Blues box, and a close-range finish was cleared off the goal-line by Stewart, who was positioned next to the post. However, the ball was recycled into the area from the right flank, and this time Roberts stabbed in to make it 1-0.
Southend attempted to get back on level terms quickly, and a Marley Hutchings throw found Benton in the 23rd minute. He flicked the ball on to Acquah, who fired straight at the goalkeeper. The Northampton custodian made another comfortable save four minutes later, this time thwarting Terrell Egbri after Matt Rush’s initial effort had been charged down.
Benton and Rush, so influential particularly in the victory at Charlton Athletic, were unable to shape the course of this match as much as they would have liked, and Southend began to come under increasing pressure as the opening period drew towards a conclusion with Harry Seaden claiming a free-kick on 32 minutes.
Pianim blocked a shot on the line seven minutes later whilst, from the follow-up, Seaden and Rush smothered the ball. Benton then curled a 25-yard free-kick into the side-netting after a foul on Acquah, but Seaden was soon called into action again to save at his near post. The half ended, though, with Acquah winning a flick-on for Rush, who moved play on to Benton, only for his attempt to be blocked.
Huzzey resisted the temptation to make changes at half-time, but eight minutes later second-years Cuthbert and Marah were introduced, the latter at a ground where he had scored a hat-trick in 2016/17. On the hour mark, the pair combined as Marah held the ball up before rolling it into the path of Cuthbert, whose effort was saved.
By then Benton had also gone close, smashing a dipping half-volley inches over from Curran’s superb pass, and Southend finally equalised in the 67th minute. Farah’s left-wing corner was cleared as far as Rush on the edge of the penalty area, and he sent an inviting cross into the danger area. With Blues players lining up to score, Pianim stuck out a boot to divert the ball into the net from four yards out.
Southend believed that they were right back in the game, but they were shocked when parity lasted just two minutes. Northampton won a left-wing corner, and confusion in the Blues back-line allowed the dangerous Irwin to rise and head home. The visitors again had a deficit to overcome.
Northampton slowed the game down considerably inside the final 20 minutes, but there were chances for Southend to level again. Benton’s pass picked out the run of Yonis Farah in the 72nd minute, but his strike was easy for the goalkeeper to gather, and in the 84th minute Acquah helped a Rush centre onto Eren Kinali’s right boot, with his strike again saved.
Time was running out, and there was just one final opportunity for Blues to gain a share of the spoils when first-year forward Rush met a cross on the turn. However, his shot lacked the purchase to test the Northampton goalkeeper, and Southend were consigned to a 2-1 defeat before their opening home match of the season, against Milton Keynes Dons, on Saturday.
Southend United U18s: Harry Seaden, Marley Hutchings, Yonis Farah, O’Shane Stewart (Harry Cuthbert, 53), Taylor Curran, Zak Pianim, Eren Kinali, Jon Benton, Emile Acquah, Matt Rush, Terrell Egbri (Sewa Marah, 53). Substitutes not used: Callum Taylor, Miles Mitchell-Nelson.