Southend United U18s lost at the Second Round stage of the EFL Youth Alliance Cup for the sixth time in seven years as Oxford United claimed a 3-1 victory at Boots & Laces...
Matt Rush gave Blues the lead with his first goal of the season just after the half-hour mark, but three unanswered second-half strikes saw Oxford inflict a second successive defeat on Dave Huzzey’s side at Boots & Laces. Southend now face two away trips, to Leyton Orient and Peterborough United, as they seek to restore the momentum gathered by three consecutive wins earlier in the season.
Huzzey made three changes to the starting line-up for the knockout clash, with second-year goalkeeper Nathan Bishop replacing Harry Seaden and experienced pair Yonis Farah and Zak Pianim stepping in for Idemula Osimeh and Miles Mitchell-Nelson in defence. Emile Acquah led the attack searching for his 20th goal in just 19 starts for the U18s.
Oxford began the game on the front foot, but it was the hosts who threatened first when Eren Kinali saw his fifth minute strike blocked. Three minutes later Rush latched onto a loose ball 25 yards from goal but lashed over the crossbar when unchallenged on the edge of the penalty area.
The visitors were enjoying plenty of territory, but Nathan Bishop remained a spectator and, in the 13th minute, Jon Benton saw his long-range effort charged down into the path of Kinali, who sent a snapshot inches wide of the right-hand upright. Shortly afterwards Sewa Marah linked up with Kinali for a right-wing centre that Rush side-footed into the goalkeeper’s gloves.
Marah himself warmed the Oxford custodian’s palms with a fierce long-range attempt that required beating away following Taylor Curran’s pass in the 19th minute, although Curran’s next involvement was less positive as he was cautioned for bringing down a forward. The free-kick was swung into the side-netting, and Bishop was called into action for the first time seconds later as he saved at point-blank range.
Southend took the lead in the 34th minute, having moved the ball swiftly up the field to Kinali. He retrieved the ball from the right bye-line and managed to cut it back for Rush, who rifled home from around twelve yards out via the inside of the left-hand post.
The goal was not without its controversy, however, as Oxford passionately appealed that it had crossed the whitewash, although the officials waved away their protestations. The U’s may still have been distracted as, almost straight from the kick-off, Kinali teed the ball up on the edge of the penalty area before volleying into the goalkeeper’s hands.
Oxford did threaten when a shot flashed across the face of goal in the 41st minute, but Blues almost extended their advantage in first-half stoppage time when Farah and Marah combined to set-up Rush, who drove the ball at the goalkeeper from the ‘D’.
Blues could be pleased with their display in the opening 45 minutes, but Oxford came out after the break with renewed purpose and Farah had to make a good block early on before, six minutes into the second period, Bishop made a fine save leaping away to his right to turn a shot around the left-hand post.
Having scored his first youth team goal since August 2016, Rush had an opportunity to double his personal tally in the 52nd minute when Marah picked him out with a square pass, but the first-year forward dragged his effort wide of the left-hand upright. Two minutes later Benton fought hard for the ball and Marah advanced into Oxford territory, only for his effort to dribble straight at the goalkeeper.
Just before the hour mark, the U’s levelled. The ball was moved quickly down the left-hand side between Dan Humphreys and Taylor Curran and the eventual centre was bundled beyond Bishop at his near post. Southend were hit by a further blow just a few minutes later when Kinali went down injured, although Terrell Egbri offered express pace and trickery in his place.
Unfortunately Blues were stunned by a second goal in the 64th minute. The homesters had possession deep in the Oxford half but, when Benton lost out on the edge of the penalty area, the U’s broke with pace and another left-wing cross was converted, this time via the inside of the right-hand post.
Bishop made a good stop to prevent Oxford extending their lead midway through the second half, and Blues briefly threatened a response in the 78th minute when Egbri drifted in from the right flank and fired over. Marah also smacked a long-range shot at the goalkeeper, but Oxford sealed their success with seven minutes remaining.
This time the move came down the visitors’ right-hand side, with the cross being completed by a close-range finish past Bishop. Blues battled hard in the closing stages, but they couldn’t prize open a well-organised Oxford back-line and the scoreline remained 3-1.
Southend United U18s: Nathan Bishop, Dan Humphreys, Yonis Farah, Harry Cuthbert (O’Shane Stewart, 73), Taylor Curran, Zak Pianim, Eren Kinali (Terrell Egbri, 62), Jon Benton, Emile Acquah, Sewa Marah, Matt Rush. Substitutes not used: Harry Seaden, Miles Mitchell-Nelson.
Goal: Rush (34).
Cautioned: Curran (23, foul tackle).