Norman Wabo continued his excellent form in 2017/18 with a brace as Southend United U23s swept aside a youthful Swindon Town team at Boots & Laces in the Central League South Division.
Wabo struck early in each half to put Blues 2-0 up, with midfielder Michael Klass and full-back Tom Clifford completing the scoring as Kevin Maher’s team made it back-to-back victories following last week’s triumph at AFC Wimbledon.
Nathan Bishop also made some important saves to maintain a clean sheet, but it was the sharp-shooting Wabo that drew particular praise from Maher: “Norman has got a knack,” he said. “He can drive you mad at times with the things he does, but he pops up and he’s got another two goals to his tally. He’s flying at the minute and, as long as we keep getting him opportunities, he seems to be taking them.”
Maher was able to call upon Elvis Bwomono – who skippered the side – and Dru Yearwood, as well as Bishop, from recent first-team squads. Miles Mitchell-Nelson started at centre-back alongside trialist Romano Simpson whilst Renei Batlokwa and Harry Phillips provided the support for Wabo in an attacking role.
Winger Alex Clark was also a potent threat on the left-hand side, and he swung in a dangerous cross as early as the second minute, with Wabo nodding into the gloves of Archie Matthews in the Swindon goal. Sixty seconds later Yearwood was almost the provider as Matthews was forced to dive bravely at the feet of the front-man to keep the scoreline goalless.
The visitors would not be able to keep Blues at bay for long, and the opening goal arrived after just eight minutes. This time Klass made an impressive break out of midfield and, when his rampaging run was brought to an end on the edge of the penalty area, the ball was squeezed out to Wabo, who dispatched it with aplomb.
The former youth team forward continued to work hard for the team in front of goal, and his endeavours eventually began to create chances for his team-mates. Yearwood lined up a 30-yard effort that Matthews did well to parry out after a quarter-of-an-hour, whilst Clark dragged an effort across the face of goal after a short corner routine in the 17th minute.
Matthews made a good near-post stop to deny Wabo after he unfurled a vicious strike in the 20th minute, and Phillips and Batlokwa combined midway through the opening half to fashion an opportunity for Klass. The ex-Queens Park Rangers youngster was found by Batlokwa’s centre, but his flick towards goal was clutched by Matthews.
Having withstood that barrage, Swindon began to feel their way into the contest in the second half of the opening period, but Mitchell-Nelson and Simpson stood firm at the back to keep them away from Bishop’s goal, and the constant hassling and harrying of the midfield unit forced plentiful mistakes.
Klass went close with a driven effort from the edge of ‘D’ after Wabo had robbed Louis Spalding of possession in the 34th minute, but Blues couldn’t find a second goal and they went in at half-time just 1-0 up. Klass also threatened to score shortly after the interval, but he drilled an attempt wide and Simpson then couldn’t locate the target from a hanging Clifford centre.
However, Wabo showed his team-mates how to find the net as he notched his eighth goal from eight competitive U23s starts this season. The forward capitalised on a poor defensive header to bear down on Matthews one-on-one before slotting home his second of the afternoon.
Bwomono had also drawn an excellent save from Matthews in the build-up to the goal, but Blues were served notice that the match wasn’t over when Swindon’s Teoman Atik volleyed against the crossbar following a free-kick just before the hour mark.
Normal service was resumed when Phillips and Wabo combined to set-up Batlokwa in the 63rd minute, and the midfielder smashed over shortly before Bwomono and Yearwood were withdrawn. Dan Humphreys – who is currently enjoying a loan spell at Bostik League Premier Division club Lowestoft Town – and Lewis Gard were the replacements, with Phillips handed the captain’s armband.
Humphreys immediately did well to head clear from underneath his own crossbar before the ball ricocheted around the penalty area from the resultant corner and was cleared off the goal-line. Despite that scare, Southend were undeterred moving forwards and Wabo unselfishly cut the ball back to Phillips, who saw his shot smothered by Matthews.
Southend did make it 3-0 with 20 minutes remaining. This time Phillips provided the assist, sending in a right-wing cross that was nodded out by a Swindon defender under pressure from Mitchell-Nelson. The ball dropped invitingly to Klass, who steered his shot into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
Blues saved their most spectacular goal for last as Clifford made an impression from left-back. He found himself in possession on the edge of the penalty area and, after shifting the ball out of his feet to beat substitute Joe Blackwell and create some space, he crashed the ball thunderously into the top left-hand corner.
There was still time for Bishop to preserve his clean sheet, notably as he made an impressive save at the feet of Jacob Bancroft, before Wabo almost completed a hat-trick with a curling effort that was deflected inches wide. Batlokwa also drilled a late shot at Matthews, but Maher was delighted with all aspects of his team’s play. “We had two new centre-backs in there, and Miles did very well,” he stated.
“Nathan kept a clean sheet and he made a couple of very good saves as well when he needed to, which was nice. I’m very pleased all-round with how we went about it, and 4-0 at home is a very good result. Tom also did very well and took his goal brilliantly as well.”
“The way they applied themselves and went about their work was similar to last week. We’ve spoken a lot about standards recently, and they’re setting them quite high at the minute. I’m really pleased with the performance, and it was good for Norman to get another two goals. I think they’re all in a good place at the minute and it bodes well for what we’re producing and what we’ve got coming through,” Maher added.
Southend United U18s: Nathan Bishop, Elvis Bwomono (Dan Humphreys, 63), Tom Clifford, Dru Yearwood (Lewis Gard, 63), Romano Simpson, Miles Mitchell-Nelson, Renei Batlokwa, Michael Klass, Norman Wabo, Harry Phillips, Alex Clark. Substitutes not used: Harry Seaden, Emile Acquah, Harry Cuthbert.
Goals: Wabo (8, 55), Klass (70), Clifford (76).