After winning three consecutive matches, Southend United U18s were brought back down to earth by AFC Wimbledon, who claimed a 3-2 victory at Boots & Laces despite Emile Acquah’s second-half brace...
Acquah took his goalscoring tally to six in six matches this season by adding two goals to his double against Cambridge United last weekend, but they proved to be mere consolations after AFC Wimbledon scored at each extremity of the first half and added a third just when it looked as though Blues might get back onto an even footing during the second period.
It was a disappointing result for Southend, who had entered the match full of confidence after lifting themselves up to third in the EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference table. The Dons, by contrast, arrived in south-east Essex after four straight league defeats and were positioned at the foot of the fledgling standings.
Youth team coach Dave Huzzey named an unchanged starting eleven following the 5-2 success against Cambridge, but the teenage Shrimpers got off to the worst possible start when Taylor Curran scored an own goal in just the second minute. Wimbledon had broken swiftly down the right-hand side and, in his attempts to get the right side of an attacker, Curran prodded past Harry Seaden.
Southend’s initial response was good. Harry Cuthbert was instrumental in the sixth minute as he found Matt Rush on the left-hand apex of the penalty area, but Dons goalkeeper Edward Ogbebor-Onaiwu palmed the ball over the crossbar. Sixty seconds later Eren Kinali was fouled 20 yards from goal, but Jon Benton’s free-kick curled inches wide of the left-hand upright.
Despite those openings, Blues looked susceptible to any Wimbledon attack, and the visitors could have doubled their lead in the eleventh minute with an almost identical move to their goal. This time Seaden made a smart stop at his near post from an attacker’s close-range finish, and eleven minute later a good left-wing move from the Dons ended with a forward chipping wastefully over.
In-between Miles Mitchell-Nelson glanced a Benton free-kick narrowly wide at the far post, and when Southend were in possession they looked threatening themselves. In the 27th minute Wimbledon defended well to prevent Acquah from meeting a Matt Rush centre and, when Kinali recycled the ball into the penalty area, Sewa Marah couldn’t get enough purchase on his shot to trouble Ogbebor-Onaiwu.
A frustrating morning continued for Blues as Kinali volleyed an excellent Rush delivery across the face of goal and Marah saw his 33rd-minute attempt deflected wide of the right-hand post. Four minutes later Acquah was brilliantly denied an equaliser by Ogbebor-Onaiwu, who tipped his strike over following Ide Osimeh’s perfect pass.
However, Wimbledon had also gone close when an attacker wonderfully controlled a right-wing cross, only to smash over the crossbar from ten yards, and they doubled their lead two minutes before half-time. A deep free-kick was hung up from the left touchline and an attacker got to the ball before Seaden to bundle the ball over the goal-line.
Even then, Blues could have fought back before the break, only for Kinali’s driven centre to go unconverted when Acquah failed to get the necessary connection to send the ball into the bottom left-hand corner of the net. 2-0 down at the interval, Huzzey roused his charges and resisted the urge to make any substitutions as he trusted the eleven players on the pitch to turn things around.
Southend took some time to get going in the second period, and Seaden had to tip a dangerous cross away from goal in the 52nd minute before Rush led a counter-attack. He brought the ball into Wimbledon territory from the resultant corner and found Benton, who saw his attempt deflected wide.
It was just the impetus Blues required, and they halved the deficit in the 56th minute. Dan Humphreys was fouled on the right-hand side and Benton sent a teasing free-kick into the penalty area. Humphreys helped the delivery into the path of Acquah, who reacted quickly to sweep the ball into the left-hand corner.
Southend were inspired, and Rush’s persistent run led to a defender clearing in front of Acquah on the hour before Benton’s 25-yard free-kick was brilliantly turned away by Ogbebor-Onaiwu midway through the second half. There was a nervous moment when Mitchell-Nelson had to effect a perfectly-timed challenge to stop an attacker in the penalty area, but Blues were largely on the front foot at this stage.
Curran met a Benton set-piece from the right touchline, sending his header agonisingly wide of the right-hand post, and centre-back partner Mitchell-Nelson went equally close in the 70th minute when he stabbed yet another Benton dead-ball delivery narrowly over from eight yards out.
Two minutes later Acquah looped a header over Ogbebor-Onaiwu from a Humphreys cross, but the custodian recovered to grab the ball away from the waiting Rush and, frustratingly, Blues fell further behind with a quarter-of-an-hour left to play. A right-wing corner wasn’t cleared and a Wimbledon attacker fired in, despite Seaden managing to push the ball against the inside of the right-hand post.
Osimeh curled marginally over from 30 yards and substitute Terrell Egbri tried his luck from a Harry Cuthbert pass in the 79th minute, but Ogbebor-Onaiwu saved easily and at the other end England U17s goalkeeper Seaden had to make a series of fine saves, blocking a shot at his near post, parrying a one-on-one effort and then diving full-length to his right to palm another attempt to safety late on.
In the third minute of stoppage time Blues were able to celebrate a second goal when Benton’s perfectly-weighted pass was side-footed beyond Ogbebor-Onaiwu by Acquah, but the referee immediately blew his whistle to draw an end to proceedings. Southend will have the chance to atone straight away on Tuesday (1:00pm kick-off) when they welcome Oxford United in the EFL Youth Alliance Cup Second Round.
Southend United U18s: Harry Seaden, Dan Humphreys, Idemula Osimeh, Harry Cuthbert, Taylor Curran, Miles Mitchell-Nelson, Eren Kinali, Jon Benton, Emile Acquah, Sewa Marah (Terrell Egbri, 79), Matt Rush. Substitutes not used: Yonis Farah, Shane O’Stewart, Zak Pianim.
Goals: Acquah (56, 90+3).
Southend United U18s 2-3 AFC Wimbledon U18s; EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference; Boots & Laces; Saturday 9th September 2017; Kick-Off 10:30am