Southend United U18s suffered a second successive defeat as they fell to 3-2 reverse against Barnet at The Hive despite goals from Emile Acquah and Jon Benton...
The efforts from Acquah – his tenth of the current campaign – and Benton cancelled out strikes by Bees duo Rio Connell and Arale Mohammed, but Southend couldn’t muster a response when Greg Adinna fired the hosts in front for a third time in the 75th minute.
Despite the defeat youth team boss Dave Huzzey felt there were plenty of positives to take from the game: “I know we conceded three goals, but it’s really hard to be too negative. I thought some of the attacking play was first-class. I was really impressed with both Emile Acquah and Matt Rush and I thought they worked really well together,” he said.
“On another day we’d’ve converted more, but more importantly we wouldn’t have conceded three goals. I thought the goals were down to individual mistakes, which is something that is going to happen when you are playing players that are a little bit inexperienced.”
“I thought the performance showed our inexperience and it’s just a case that some players need to grow into youth team football at a young age, and they will. We have total belief that these players are good enough to do that, but we just need to give them that exposure. This game was the first real time that we have done that; we just need a bit of time and we’ll be absolutely fine. I saw some real positives.”
With Nathan Bishop and Dru Yearwood involved in the first-team squad and Zak Pianim joining Dan Humphreys and Sewa Marah in moving out of the club on loan, Huzzey made changes to the team that had lost 6-2 against Leyton Orient. Taylor Curran returned from suspension, whilst Benton, Matt Rush and Terrell Egbri were restored to the starting line-up in more offensive positions.
Benton was heavily involved early in the match, delivering a couple of dangerous set-pieces before curling over with a free-kick from 25 yards out. In-between, Connell flashed a shot over on the counter-attack, and the winger would go on to give Barnet the lead in the eleventh minute. Anttonis Vasillou’s through-ball was chipped past Harry Seaden as Connell finished off the move.
Blues could have equalised within five minutes of the restart when Rush held off his marker to turn the ball into the six-yard box for Acquah, who prodded his close-range finish wide of the far post. Rush then lined up a 30-yard attempt from a square Benton pass, only to direct the ball wide of the left-hand upright.
The visitors were ramping up the pressure, and Acquah narrowly failed to meet an Ide Osimeh corner at the back post thanks to the presence of Louie Annersley at the back post, with the Barnet defender then tracking back midway through the first half to tackle Rush as he bore down on goal from the inside-left channel.
In a rare break, Vasillou dragged a shot wide from a Connell cross at the other end before Bees custodian Renell McKenzie-Lyle brilliantly thwarted Rush by pushing his 15-yard strike over the crossbar. From the resultant 26th-minute corner, Osimeh recycled the ball to the far post, where an unmarked Miles Mitchell-Nelson cut back across goal instead of directing a shot at goal.
Two minutes later, Benton’s delivery from the corner qudrant was powerfully headed into the side-netting by Taylor Curran before the midfielder tested McKenzie-Lyle himself following good build-up play by Eren Kinali and Acquah. Despite their pressure, Blues failed to score in the opening period, which frustrated Huzzey: “I don’t know how we haven’t scored in the first half,” he remarked, ruefully.
“I can’t work that out, and in the second half, I don’t know how we haven’t scored at least four because in some of the attacking play we opened them up really well, and from set-pieces and second phases we were excellent in and around the box, but we were just not clinical enough at times.”
That aspect of the game improved after the interval and, with Egbri having already seen a shot deflected over, Blues levelled in the 50th minute. Benton claimed the assist by delivering an excellent corner to the near post, where Acquah rose in front of McKenzie-Lyle to angle a header into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
Unfortunately parity lasted less than a minute as the Bees took the lead again. Blues were the architects of their own downfall as they switched off and allowed Mohammed the opportunity to advance down the left-hand side before dispatching a shot into the bottom right-hand corner of Seaden’s goal.
“After the game I couldn’t be negative towards the boys because it’s not their fault that they haven’t won the game, it’s just that little bit of inexperience. The game looked like that, and the obvious example was conceding thirty seconds after scoring. When we had scored there had only been one team in it,” claimed Huzzey.
Southend could have equalised again straight away when Curran met a Benton flag-kick and McKenzie-Lyle pushed the ball out from underneath the crossbar before Rush smashed the loose ball over. Sam Knock was brought on for Marley Hutchings, and Mitchell-Nelson soon roamed down the right to send a cross in. McKenzie-Lyle fumbled the ball but recovered before it crossed the line.
Nonetheless, the equaliser arrived in the 65th minute. Rush instigated the move by winning possession in midfield and Benton then benefitted from the physical presence of Acquah before bringing the ball down and angling his shot past McKenzie-Lyle and into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
Rush could have put Blues ahead for the first time in the 71st minute, but his fierce strike was superbly tipped onto the outside of the post by McKenzie-Lyle, a moment that Huzzey recalled: “Matt Rush deserves a special mention because I thought he was unplayable. He was excellent, and he deserved to score when he hit the post. That was the one that killed us at 2-2, with the ‘keeper getting a touch on it and turning it onto the post. He’s pushing the bar as a first-year.”
“Although individual mistakes costs us, we still could have won the game. Everyone came off the pitch asking how we haven’t won it, and we’ve actually lost it and conceded three goals but we’ve created so many chances,” he added, reflecting on a third goal that came when McKenzie-Lyle’s 75th-minute goal-kick glanced off Knock’s head and Adinna rolled home in a one-on-one situation with Seaden.
Schoolboys Bobby Unwin, Imaad Sankoh – making his competitive youth team debut – and Charlie Kelman were introduced during the final 20 minutes, and Sankoh’s dinked cross almost set-up Kinali in the 83rd minute, only for a defender to clear. Benton forced McKenzie-Lyle into a parried stop and Kelman smashed over in the 87th minute, but it wasn’t to be as Curran also failed to connect with a stoppage-time corner.
“It is exciting in that we’ve got some really good players coming through. Again we played with an U15, Bobby Unwin, wide left, who is one of the quickest lads I’ve ever seen. Imaad came on the pitch and done well; Charlie Kelman came on the pitch and done well and Sam Knock also came on and he’s had no experience this season because of injury.”
“Marley, at right-back, also doesn’t have much experience. I thought all over the pitch we didn’t have the experience that we needed, but it’s so exciting because we’ve got such good players,” said Huzzey after a defeat that leaves Southend in third place in the league table, level with Dagenham & Redbridge on goal difference but also only four points above the bottom half.
Southend United: Harry Seaden, Marley Hutchings (Sam Knock, 62), Ide Osimeh, Jon Benton, Taylor Curran, Miles Mitchell-Nelson, Eren Kinali (Charlie Kelman, 85), Harry Cuthbert (Imaad Sankoh, 77), Emile Acquah, Matt Rush, Terrell Egbri (Bobby Unwin, 72). Substitute not used: Callum Taylor.
Goals: Acquah (50), Benton (65).
Cautioned:Mitchell-Nelson (70, adopting an aggressive attitude).