Southend United U18s 3-4 Milton Keyens Dons U18s...
Southend United U18s fell agonisingly short of completing an outstanding comeback as they suffered a 4-3 defeat to Milton Keynes Dons in their first home match of the EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference campaign.
Blues had looked set for a hefty reverse when the visitors converted their second penalty of the morning early in the second period, but a brace of goals from forward Emile Acquah – including a last-minute penalty – set up a dramatic denouement, with the MK Dons goalkeeper making an outstanding stop in the seventh minute of stoppage time to deny Acquah his hat-trick and Southend a share of the spoils.
Youth team coach Dave Huzzey brought skipper Harry Cuthbert and striker Sewa Marah into the starting line-up for the clash, meaning that Blues began the game with the same outfield players that had ended the 2-1 loss against Northampton Town on the opening day of the season. The other change was in goal, where Nathan Bishop returned to the team ahead of the injured Harry Seaden.
The hosts got onto the front foot early in the encounter and within the first sixty seconds central defender Zak Pianim – who had netted against the Cobblers – planted a header wide from a Yonis Farah corner. Two minutes later pressure from Marley Hutchings on the right flank led to Marah driving the ball into the goalkeeper’s gloves from 25 yards out.
In the 12th minute Jon Benton made a darting run through midfield before laying the ball off to Matt Rush on the edge of the penalty area, and the first year scholar’s crisp, curling attempt was well saved by the visiting shotstopper to provide further evidence of Southend’s intent in the opening stages.
However, Milton Keynes battled back and good defending from Cuthbert and Farah in the 17th minute forced the visitors away from goal before Bishop made a scrambling save at the end of a right wing counter-attack. Midway through the first half MK took the lead. Blues lost the ball in midfield and, after another right flank delivery, Taylor Curran blocked the initial effort before the rebound was swept home.
Southend looked to respond and Rush linked up with Benton on 28 minutes for a skidding strike that failed to test the goalkeeper, and instead MK doubled their advantage after half-an-hour. Farah tripped an attacker on the right-hand edge of the penalty area and, although Bishop pushed out the resultant penalty, he was powerless to prevent the rebound from being squeezed inside the left-hand upright.
Blues needed to bounce back, and Marah’s first goal of the season helped them to halve the deficit within two minutes. Midfielder Benton nipped in to steal possession thirty yards from goal, but there was still much for Marah to do as he collected the ball on the edge of the ‘D’. However, he skipped easily around an opponent and then slotted home to make it 2-1.
Bishop made a good stop when an MK forward advanced one-on-one with him shortly afterwards, and Southend appeared likely to keep the visitors within sight at the interval until a 42nd minute goal undid their hard work. Milton Keynes broke quickly out of defence, and their centre-half captain was allowed to waltz down the pitch to slide home underneath an exposed Bishop.
Ide Osimeh replaced Farah at the break, and Blues began brightly in the second half. Cuthbert warmed the goalkeeper’s gloves from 25 yards out in the 48th minute and Eren Kinali was then frustrated as his effort was charged down from a Hutchings cross. Huzzey continued to encourage his side forwards, but Blues could not maintain their momentum, and MK further increased their lead in the 56th minute.
The goal arrived just three minutes after Bishop had made a fine save, palming a wicked shot around the right-hand upright at full-stretch. In the next attack Curran was adjudged to have brought down an attacker, and MK scored their second spot-kick of the morning when the twelve-yarder was rolled to Bishop’s right, with the custodian having dived to his left.
Terrell Egbri was introduced in place of Rush as Southend freshened up their midfield, and Acquah soon drilled the ball at the goalkeeper from distance. Finally, in the 69th minute, Blues gave themselves a chance as Cuthbert’s free-kick was hung up for Pianim. He twice attempted to force the ball past the goalkeeper, but instead it was Acquah who bundled it over the goal-line from close range.
At 4-2, Southend possessed belief again, and Cuthbert sent a searing strike inches over the crossbar from Benton’s lay-off in the 72nd minute. Benton himself fired over a couple of minutes later, and in the 78th minute Marah met a Hutchings cross with an acrobatic half-volley that was gratefully grabbed by the goalkeeper diving to his left.
O’Shane Stewart was booked within four minutes of entering the field in place of Cuthbert, and Southend began to look ragged as they searched frantically for a third goal. Their opponents were starting to run the clock down whenever possible, but Blues stuck to their task and gained their reward in the final minute of the regulation ninety.
The ever-persistent Kinali burst down the inside-right channel and, when he attempted to round the MK full-back, the defender dropped to the ground and handled the ball. The referee pointed to the penalty spot and Acquah coolly converted his 15th youth team goal to set up a grandstand finish. Blues threw everything at their opponents, with Pianim inches away from meeting an Egbri cross in the 95th minute.
Marah tried to bulldoze his way into the penalty area, eventually electing to fire at the goalkeeper from 20 yards out and, deep into injury time, Acquah rose to meet another Egbri delivery. His header seemed set to find the corner of the net, only for the goalkeeper to tip the ball around the post. Blues will now search for their first win of the season away to Stevenage next Saturday.
Southend United U18s: Nathan Bishop, Marley Hutchings, Yonis Farah (Idemula Osimeh, 46), Harry Cuthbert (O’Shane Stewart, 77), Taylor Curran, Zak Pianim, Eren Kinali, Jon Benton, Emile Acquah, Matt Rush (Terrell Egbri, 62), Sewa Marah. Substitute not used: Miles Mitchell-Nelson.
Goals: Marah (33), Acquah (69, 90 pen).
Cautioned: Stewart (81, foul tackle).