An injury-time equaliser prevented Southend United U18s from claiming their second EFL Youth Alliance Merit League One victory of the season as Emile Acquah’s brace was cancelled out in a 2-2 draw.
Acquah twice gave the Shrimpers the lead, firstly through a nonchalant 25th-minute and then a side-footed strike on the hour but, despite schoolboy shotstopper Harry Seaden saving a penalty a quarter-of-an-hour from the end, Blues were undone by a goal in the sixth minute of stoppage time.
Nathan Bishop’s call-up to the first-team squad meant a fifth appearance of the season for Seaden, who had appeared in front of over 2,000 spectators for England U16s against Spain last month, Captain Elvis Bwomono and centre-back Taylor Curran were restored to the side in defence, whilst Alex Clark and Damani Dias featured further forwards.
In the shadow of Argyle’s Home Park ground at their Fraser Park training venue, Blues made a slow start and found themselves under pressure from the hosts in the early stages. A couple of early free-kicks were dealt with by the Blues back-line before a deflected strike flew wide in the seventh minute.
Southend, who had enjoyed an overnight stay in the city centre after training at Reading on the way to Devon on Friday, continued to invite their hosts onto them, and in the 11th minute a right-wing corner was nodded over before Seaden made a smart stop above his head from another aerial effort four minutes later.
The visitors had failed to work the home goalkeeper prior to taking the lead after 25 minutes. Harry Cuthbert worked hard in midfield to hurry an opponent before Acquah stole the ball on the halfway line. The in-form forward galloped clear of the defence and then dispatched a superb shot over the custodian and into the top left-hand corner of the net.
The goal gave Blues confidence, and Bwomono and Dias combined well on the right-hand side to set up Eren Kinali, who stabbed at the custodian in the 28th minute. However, Southend were fortunate on the half-hour when an Argyle forward won the ball on the edge of the penalty area and Tom Clifford did just enough to force him to fire wide.
Seconds later Seaden was grateful that his clearance was not slotted home by a striker as he found himself caught of position and the shot fizzed across the face of goal, but Southend were much-improved from the opening gambits and Dru Yearwood won the ball for Acquah, who picked out Dias with a reverse pass. Unfortunately he was crowded out and the danger passed for Plymouth.
The match was much more evenly-contested at this stage, and more fine work by Yearwood in midfield saw his header release Clark on the left flank. He sprang away from the full-back, only for his fierce effort to be saved at the near post. The first half finished with the woodwork helping Southend out when Alex Battle turned his attempt from a right-wing cross against the base of the upright.
The second half started in much the same fashion as the first, with Plymouth winning a succession of set-pieces in dangerous situations. Eventually the hosts made their pressure tell as a right-wing corner was nodded imperiously past Seaden by Battle from close-range to make it 1-1.
Sewa Marah, who had been waiting for his introduction, now replaced Damani Dias, and Southend sprung into life. Clark crossed for Yearwood, who saw a half-volley from 20-yards deflected wide, and then from the resultant corner Clark was denied by a superb save by the Argyle goalkeeper, who tipped over his dipping 25-yard strike.
In the 59th minute, Blues edged ahead for the second time. Skipper Bwomono was the instigator as he drove into Argyle territory before slamming his shot at the goalkeeper. He couldn’t hold onto the ball and Kinali nipped in, poking the ball into the path of Acquah, who rolled home his ninth goal of the season and his sixth of 2017.
If the overall balance of play was not reflected by Southend’s 2-1 advantage, then the lead was certainly reward for the industrious nature of the visitors. That was epitomised in the 63rd minute when Clifford tracked his man all the way back into the penalty area, then forced him out of the box before blocking a cross.
Blues were winning ugly, but they were indebted to their goalkeeper, Seaden, for a series of important contributions as the game moved into final 20 minutes. Having seen his goal-kick charged down in the 73rd minute, he made himself big to turn the ball out of play for a corner, but more was to follow.
From the ensuing corner Taylor Curran was adjudged to have pulled down an opponent and the referee awarded a penalty. Seaden guessed correctly, but he still had work to do as Battle’s well-struck spot-kick was palmed away from goal. The save lifted the visitors, who threw themselves into every challenge with renewed vigour as they sought to protect the three points.
Curran’s enthusiasm saw him go into the referee’s notebook, and he was swiftly withdrawn. Zak Pianim joined Imani Matthews on the pitch, the winger having been introduced when Clark succumbed to an injury after he had initially attempted to play on.
A watchful Bwomono was called upon to block a shot following a right-wing cross, but more heroics were required from Seaden after the corner was met by another powerful header. The teenage gloveman was travelling in one direction, but he managed to spin around and get a strong hand to the ball, ushering it away from goal before Bwomono cleared off the goal-line.
There were late opportunities for Marah, who smashed high and wide, and Matthews, who chipped into the goalkeeper’s gloves, but Blues were left disappointed when Plymouth nicked a share of the spoils deep into additional time. The ball was worked in from the left flank, and the Southend defence had chances to clear before a scuffed finish by Alex Fletcher deceived Seaden and nestled into the bottom right-hand corner.
Southend United U18s: Harry Seaden, Elvis Bwomono, Tom Clifford, Harry Cuthbert, Joe Mackenzie, Taylor Curran (Zak Pianim, 77), Eren Kinali, Dru Yearwood, Emile Acquah, Damani Dias (Sewa Marah, 56), Alex Clark (Imani Matthews, 71). Substitutes not used: Yonis Farah, Dan Humphreys.
Goals: Acquah (25, 59).
Cautioned: Curran (76).