Southend U18s back on track with 2-0 win over Luton U18s...
By Robert Craven
Southend United U18s returned to winning ways as a goal in each half helped Dave Huzzey’s team emerge with a 2-0 victory over Luton Town at Boots & Laces.
Having kicked off their EFL Youth Alliance Merit League One campaign with a narrow defeat against Stevenage, it was important for Blues to re-establish some momentum during the final ten games of 2016/17. A win in this, their first home match for two-and-a-half months, was crucial and was gained thanks to a first-half own goal and Lewis Gard’s 80th-minute finish.
Huzzey, who returned to coach the side following a week in Madrid with League Football Education, brought Harry Cuthbert and Emile Acquah back into the starting line-up in place of Ben Musselwhite and Sewa Marah respectively. Both would eventually play their part in the success, although the opening quarter-of-an-hour was evenly-matched.
Elvis Bwomono warmed the hands of the Luton goalkeeper with a stinging shot in the third minute, but within sixty seconds opposite full-back Tom Clifford was required to read a developing situation on the Southend right as he tracked across the six-yard box to cut out a cross.
In the tenth minute, the Hatters spurned a superb chance to take the lead. Blues custodian Nathan Bishop made an uncharacteristic mistake as he failed to claim a hanging delivery into the penalty area, and the ball dropped to a visiting forward. However, Southend sighed with relief as the shot was directed against the outside of the left-hand upright.
Five minutes later Joe Mackenzie marshalled a dangerous bouncing through-ball back to Bishop, and after that Blues moved into the ascendancy. Clifford curled a free-kick into the gloves of the goalkeeper after Gard had been tripped 25 yards from goal on 20 minutes before an inswinging Clifford corner was hooked over by Mackenzie.
Set-pieces were causing Luton problems, and on 27 minutes another Clifford delivery was nodded over by Mackenzie. Moments later the Shrimpers created a chance from open play when Acquah dummied a Bwomono pass into the path of Gard and his snapshot was charged down and out for a corner.
Good teamwork just before the half-hour helped to present Acquah with an opening. Dru Yearwood scrapped for the ball in midfield and found Cuthbert, who shifted it out wide to Bwomono on the right-hand side. His cross was glanced wide by the tall centre-forward, who then slid a shot into the gloves of the Luton goalkeeper after latching onto a Mackenzie clearance.
Acquah smashed over from Yearwood’s cut-back following an Eren Kinali run on 34 minutes, and when Mackenzie’s powerful header from a Gard flag-kick was blocked on the goal-line, it appeared as though Southend would not make the most of their chances. However, the hosts took the lead seven minutes before the break when Clifford’s corner was diverted into his own goal by a defender at the near post.
It was the first time in four matches that Blues had taken the lead, having been beaten by late goals in each of their previous three fixtures, and they managed to protect the advantage through to half-time with some considered play. Despite that, five minutes into the second period, Blues were fortunate to survive when a Luton corner was fizzed across goal and headed over from close range.
The Hatters had fought back from 2-0 down to win the previous Boots & Laces encounter between the teams, but Zak Pianim held off a defender to clear his lines and, just after the hour mark, Bwomono booted the ball off the goal-line when a forward burst between Cuthbert and Clifford to force the ball beyond Bishop.
In between those Luton opportunities, Acquah failed to connect with a superb Bwomono delivery and Bwomono himself drilled the ball at the goalkeeper following good work from Gard on the left, and as the match moved into the final half-an-hour, Southend took control once again.
Midway through the second half, the Luton goalkeeper prevented a second own goal of the morning when he palmed a defender’s stabbed attempt to cut-out a Kinali centre around the left-hand post. The custodian then sprang off his line to narrow the angle for Gard, who saw his effort diverted wide following good hold-up play by Acquah.
Kinali forced the ball over the line from a Gard corner on 69 minutes, but that strike was disallowed for a push in the build-up and the first-year scholar soon turned provider as his angled pass was smashed over by Matthews. There was another opportunity for Matthews within sixty seconds, but he sent a deflected effort over at the end of a bulldozing run down the left.
Bishop made a comfortable save when sloppy play at the back allowed a Luton player to get a shot away, but the introduction of Alex Clark heralded the arrival of the second goal. Having just seen his own attempt to score charged down by a defender, Clark sped down the left flank and cut the ball back precisely for Gard to slam home his tenth goal of the campaign from six yards out.
Blues made a second substitution, introducing the experienced Damani Dias for Kinali, and the home side closed the game out easily in the final ten minutes. Luton were unable to get a sight of goal that could have reduced the arrears, and excellent game-management protected the two-goal advantage. Southend had earned a first win in four games, and kept a fifth clean sheet of the season in the process.
Southend United U18s: Nathan Bishop, Elvis Bwomono, Tom Clifford, Harry Cuthbert, Joe Mackenzie, Zak Pianim, Eren Kinali (Damani Dias, 80), Dru Yearwood, Emile Acquah, Lewis Gard, Imani Matthews (Alex Clark, 76). Substitutes not used: Dan Humphreys, Taylor Curran, Yonis Farah.
Goals: own goal (38), Gard (80).
EFL Youth Alliance Merit League One
Boots & Laces
Saturday 25th February 2017