U18s on the end of another late equaliser to deny them victory...
Southend United U18s were cruelly denied victory in stoppage time for the second weekend in succession as Leyton Orient left Boots & Laces with a 2-2 draw.
This was the fourth meeting between the sides this season, and it looked like Blues were going to register a first triumph thanks to Sewa Marah’s clinical finish and an unstoppable strike by midfielder Dru Yearwood. However, Ruel Sotiriou, who had netted a first-half penalty to give the O’s the lead, levelled three minutes into additional time to ensure the sides shared the points.
Youth team coach Dave Huzzey was able to call upon goalkeeper Nathan Bishop again after he had been named as a substitute for the first-team in their League One fixtures against Bristol Rovers and Coventry City earlier in the week. Lewis Gard was fit again and replaced Damani Dias, whilst Alex Clark’s injury meant Marah was handed a role on the left-hand side of a front three.
An inspired start by Emile Acquah almost reaped dividends inside the first minute as his powerful run led to a right-wing cross for Marah, who was arriving at the far post. Unfortunately the first-year forward hooked his effort wide of the upright and the game settled into a probing pattern with neither team adjusting early to the blustery conditions at Boots & Laces.
In the tenth minute Yearwood drilled a 30-yard attempt into the gloves of goalkeeper Sam Roach, but Blues had a let-off at the other end shortly afterwards when a well-worked move down the left-hand side culminated in a cross that was chipped back across goal for an onrushing attacker to nod against the top of the crossbar.
Orient then took the lead in the 17th minute. Again the move came down the visitors’ left-hand side, with a forward racing clear of the Southend defence. Bishop leapt off his goal-line to apprehend Sotiriou, only to fail to collect the ball and bring down the forward inside the penalty area. The gloveman looked confident as he faced the spot-kick, but he was sent the wrong way and Blues trailed against the run of play.
That was quickly rectified as the teenage Shrimpers equalised within seven minutes at the end of an excellent move. Skipper Elvis Bwomono released the dangerous Acquah on the right flank, and he passed inside for Eren Kinali, who set the ball back for Marah. The burly striker shifted the ball out of his feet and slammed the ball into the bottom left-hand corner from 16 yards out to register his twelfth goal of 2016/17.
Bishop was fortunate not to concede when he attempted to beat a forward with a trick just outside his penalty area and was robbed of possession, but he recovered well to save low to his left, and just before half-time he made a smart near-post stop from a right-footed snapshot. In between Joe Mackenzie glanced a Lewis Gard free-kick wide at the other end as the two teams went in all-square at the interval.
An unchanged Southend side started the second period on the front foot with Acquah menacing again, this time picking out Marah with a fantastic pass. On this occasion the front-man’s curling attempt was deflected wide off a defender, and he soon turned provider with a cross-field delivery that was driven into the penalty area by Bwomono. Gard tried to stab in, but the ball was just out of his reach.
Roach would soon know that feeling of helplessness as Yearwood smashed home to give Blues the advantage against the EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference champions with a goal of sublime beauty. The first-year midfielder picked up possession around thirty yards from goal and proceeded to pick out the top left-hand corner with an outstanding strike before wheeling away in delight.
An Orient forward fired over the crossbar after beating Taylor Curran and Tom Clifford to get a sight of goal on the hour, but it was largely the hosts who created the chances thereafter. Midway through the second half Bwomono forced Roach into a fumbled save after Kinali had helped Gard’s pass into his direction, and seconds later Kinali blasted over when well-placed to benefit from Acquah’s hard work.
Yearwood was full of confidence after his goal, and when a short corner routine between Clifford and Bwomono resulted in the midfield schemer being found just outside the penalty area, he forced Roach in a fine fingertip save to divert the ball around the left-hand post. Seconds later Kinali nodded over off-balance as he connected with a Clifford cross.
Whilst Southend dominated the play, in the back of their minds they knew that they had let winning positions slip in the final ten minutes of their last two Merit League One encounters, so they strived to increase their lead. In the 84th minute a Clifford free-kick was almost deflected over Roach by the defensive wall, but the custodian adjusted well and Blues had to wait.
Two minutes into stoppage time, Kinali almost sealed the victory as his skidding strike was brilliantly palmed wide by Roach, and less than sixty seconds later Blues found themselves thwarted again. Sotiriou was allowed to cut inside from the left wing before angling his finish through a crowded penalty area, and Bishop was unable to prevent the ball from nestling in the net despite getting a strong hand to the shot.
Southend United U18s: Nathan Bishop, Elvis Bwomono, Tom Clifford, Harry Cuthbert, Joe Mackenzie, Taylor Curran, Eren Kinali, Dru Yearwood, Emile Acquah, Lewis Gard, Sewa Marah. Substitutes not used: Jon Benton, Damani Dias, Yonis Farah, Dan Humphreys, Zak Pianim.
Goals: Marah (24), Yearwood (55).