Watford U18s 3-0 Southend United U18s...
With the U21s having a game away to Maidstone United, and a number of members of their squad travelling to Cambridge United to participate in a first-team friendly, only captain Harry Cuthbert – starting his first match for four months after suffering an ankle ligament injury – was available to youth team coach Dave Huzzey.
Despite that, and the Category Two Academy Hornets taking a third-minute lead, there were many encouraging signs for the teenage Shrimpers, who remained in the encounter until the final 20 minutes, when two further efforts took Watford away from their opponents. First-year forward Matt Rush again impressed with an industrious performance, but there were many more eye-catching displays.
It had looked initially as though Blues would be in for a difficult morning as their hosts took an early lead. The ball was worked quickly out to the left-hand side, where an attacker managed to get to the bye-line and hang the ball up to the back post, where a close-range header eluded Harry Seaden.
That goal would transpire to be the only breach of Seaden’s defences, although in the fifth minute a shot was curled over following an incisive pass in behind the Blues back-line. Two minutes later, Rush led Southend’s first attack of note, firing a fierce attempt that was well held by the Watford goalkeeper.
Further excellent play by Rush, who was playing as an out-and-out centre-forward but enjoyed working in behind and allowing team-mates to fill the space, on the left-hand side saw his persistency earn possession for Jon Benton. He teed up schoolboy Charlie Kelman, who side-footed over from 20 yards out.
The visitors had been too anxious to find the killer pass in the early stages, but by the quarter-of-an-hour mark they were beginning to keep the ball more regularly, and a Marley Hutchings throw found Rush, who moved play on to Benton, only for the midfielder’s touch to elude him with the ball drifting out for a goal-kick.
A Watford free-kick was curled inches wide of the right-hand post shortly afterwards, and the Hornets began to threaten again from set-pieces midway through the opening period. A right-wing corner was nodded over at that time and, from the restart, excellent work by Dan Hawkes and schoolboy centre-back Joseph Joseph helped to crowd out a forward.
The defensive unit was working well, and left-back Idemula Osimeh read the situation quickly when Watford’s left-winger darted inside opposite full-back Hutchings, with a fine challenge in the penalty area sending the ball out of play for a corner in the 27th minute. Seaden then made a good near-post stop to keep out a left-sided strike as the half edged towards a conclusion.
Southend were not without their openings, however, and Benton could have equalised seconds before the interval when he stretched out a foot to attempt to connect with a Cuthbert free-kick, narrowly failing to meet his target. Blues began the second period on the front foot as well, but they were almost caught out when a free-kick cannoned against the right-hand post and Osmieh had to clear.
England U16s international Seaden then made a fine near-post stop with his legs to keep out a close-range finish after a Watford attacker had latched onto a flicked header, and he was at it again just before the hour mark as he repelled another well-struck effort at point-blank range.
A nasty clash of heads saw Cuthbert withdrawn on the hour, with Sam Brogan joining another schoolboy, Shayden Morris, on the field after the midfielder had replaced Benton. The youngsters were giving away three years to some of their opponents, and Watford began to pile on the pressure, giving Seaden every chance to showcase his ability.
Twice he was called into action in the 62nd minute, firstly when he managed to turn away a snapshot at his near-post despite being unsighted by the presence of Joseph, and then he made a fine save when denying a forward at close-quarters. Two minutes later he dived full-length to his left to claim a far post header, and his final act was to magnificently palm a close-range finish around the left-hand post.
His replacement was another youth international, Welshman Dan Confrey, and he was at the top of his game to turn a strong shot over the crossbar for a corner. When the resultant delivery was claimed, he initiated a counter-attack with Rush picking out the run of striker Louie Hunt, but the schoolboy slipped and the opportunity passed.
Within seconds, Watford had doubled their advantage as the ball was forced in at the end of a right-wing move, and five minutes later they had stretched three goals clear as the hosts hit Blues on the break following a corner and the eventual shot had too much pace for Confrey.
During the final moments of the encounter Watford hit the crossbar with a 25-yard free-kick before a combination of Hawkes and Confrey managed to keep out a low finish. Any further goals would have been harsh on Southend, who battled hard throughout the game and can now look forward to the EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference season-opener against Northampton Town in good spirits.
Southend United U18s: Harry Seaden (Dan Confrey, 68), Marley Hutchings, Idemula Osimeh, O’Shane Stewart (Louie Hunt, 68), Joseph Joseph, Dan Hawkes, Terrell Egbri (Imad Sanke, 68), Harry Cuthbert (Sam Brogan, 60), Matt Rush, Jon Benton (Shayden Morris, 54), Charlie Kelman.