Southend United U18s coach Dave Huzzey pinpointed a lack of concentration as the reason for his side’s 3-2 defeat to AFC Wimbledon on Saturday morning.
Blues suffered back-to-back defeats following a 4-2 reverse against Stevenage in midweek, despite taking a 2-0 lead just 16 minutes into the encounter. Leading goalscorers Matt Rush and Charlie Kelman were both on target for the visitors, but Wimbledon pulled one goal back before the break through Bobby Mills, who then went on to net the winner following substitute David Fisher’s superb equaliser.
“Going forwards we were very, very good,” said Huzzey afterwards. “We received a compliment from AFC Wimbledon, who said that we were probably the best attacking team they had played against, but defensively we came up a little bit short after a very good first half performance. We got our two goals and I thought we totally dominated.”
Huzzey opted to change the formation, introducing 3-5-2 with schoolboy Jimmy Wallace joining Sam Knock and Miles Mitchell-Nelson at the back. Ide Osimeh and Terrell Egbri were handed the wing-back positions with Jon Benton re-introduced to the starting line-up. Kelman also returned having featured on the substitutes’ bench for the first-team in midweek.
“I was impressed with the boys playing three at the back, and we went 2-0 up within 16 minutes. We’ve spoken about it for a little while because we’ve got three good centre-halves in Jimmy, who is an U16, and Miles and Sam who are second-years. We thought we had a good formula for it, and I think it worked well,” said Huzzey.
Blues made an excellent start to the encounter, even if an early Dons effort had to be cleared off the goal-line and Ayoub Assal also fired over within the opening two minutes. Benton warmed the gloves of the goalkeeper with a long-range effort in the fifth minute and Southend took the lead less than a quarter-of-an-hour into the game.
Southend have benefitted greatly from the partnership between former Bromfords School pupils Kelman and Rush, and the pair combined again for the opening goal of the game. Kelman spotted his team-mate’s run and threaded a precise pass through the defence for the second-year scholar, who held off a defender before sliding his 20th youth team goal underneath the advancing goalkeeper.
Less than two minutes later the teenage Shrimpers had doubled their advantage. A hopeful ball forwards was chased down by Kelman, who bravely competed with the goalkeeper just inside the penalty area. The United States youth international won possession and steadied himself before smashing his 13th goal of the campaign past a covering defender and into the net.
There was a lengthy delay whilst the Dons custodian received treatment, and he was clearly aggrieved at having not been awarded a free-kick, but he restored his composure to prevent Benton from quickly adding a third goal in the 21st minute by smothering the midfielder’s shot from a square Osimeh pass.
Blues also saw a vociferous appeal for handball waved away by the referee, and Benton drilled a long-range shot at the goalkeeper, before the Dons halved their deficit. Husseiyn Biler’s right-wing cross was met by Assal and, although Seaden made an excellent save, Mills was on hand to turn home.
Osimeh slashed over after being picked out by Stewart’s pass, but Southend went even closer to restoring their two-goal cushion in the 37th minute when Wallace met an Osimeh corner at the far post and directed his header into the left-hand upright. The central defender than fired the rebound over in the ensuing scramble.
Mills almost equalised on the stroke of the half-time when he rolled a shot wide from Dante Lodge-Francis’ pass, but Huzzey was happy at the interval: “Going in at 2-1 the boys felt confident and I felt we started the second half well,” he reported.
“We had a good 10 or 15 minutes when we should’ve scored and we created some good chances, but after that time we lacked a bit of concentration. I think that’s what has let us down over the last few weeks; we’re just not concentrating and that’s a mindset rather than actual ability, which is disappointing.”
Terrell Egbri had a shot charged down after good work by Kelman early in the second period, but Wimbledon began to step up the pressure and an effort was directed into the side-netting in the 52nd minute. Five minutes later a right-wing cross was nodded wide by Zach Robinson before the Dons levelled on the hour mark through Fisher, who collected the ball 25 yards out and curled it beautifully into the bottom right-hand corner.
Another effort was fired over by the visitors before, midway through the second period, Robinson spurned an excellent chance to give the hosts the lead when Knock was dispossessed in midfield. The forward was put clear one-on-one with Seaden, but he steered his shot wide of the right-hand post and Blues could compose themselves.
“After around 60 minutes it changed because people tired and their positioning went wrong, so I wanted to go back to something they knew, and when we went back to 4-3-3 we dominated the game again. It needed a change,” claimed Huzzey, who took off Brogan and brought on Ben Dabbs at right-back.
The match became very open, with Rush twice bursting into the penalty area but finding himself dispossessed before he could get a shot away. Kelman did manage to test the goalkeeper, who made a good near-post stop with his legs before Knock was denied on the rebound.
At the other end Harry Seaden made an outstanding save to prevent Assal from putting Wimbledon in front, tumbling to his right to turn the ball around the post, but he was beaten in the 80th minute when a left-wing cross was driven home by Mills as the hosts completed their stunning comeback.
Huzzey felt that the team were too open and unaware of the risks at that point: “I’m disappointed for the boys because that lack of concentration, and that lack of sense of danger, is something that could harm them individually in the future. As many times as we have told them, some of them are not quite getting it at the moment but we still have time.”
“At 2-2 there were some great chances at both ends and it was like an FA Cup tie the way it was going back and forth. I think games are always like that against AFC Wimbledon. Robbo’s sides are always good and the games are always competitive. We could’ve nicked it, but we needed to tighten up a bit at the back and we didn’t. It was naïve to think we could’ve got the winner when we could’ve sat on what we had,” he said.
Blues were left to attempt to scramble an equaliser in the final ten minutes. Freddy Eastwood had already replaced Benton, whilst Issa Mpenga was thrown on in place of defender Osimeh. A deep Egbri cross was cleared by the home defence in the 85th minute, and three minutes later Kelman’s left-sided centre squirmed through the gloves of the goalkeeper but agonisingly out of the reach of Rush at the far post.
The referee had signalled there would be an additional three minutes, but more time was played and Wimbledon were reduced to ten men five minutes into stoppage time when Assal was handed a second yellow card. Even Seaden went forward for a couple of late free-kicks, but Blues were unable to add to their ten away wins in 2018.
“We are trying to get the boys to be a little bit more disciplined, and putting Sam Knock on there as a holding midfielder to try and shore things up worked for a little bit, but it was finely-balanced,” stated Huzzey. “The boys felt they could get a winner and they tried it. I trusted them and we could’ve won 3-2 but we didn’t and that’s something we’ve got to improve on.”
“We know we’re going to score every week, but we need to be a little bit more defensive. If we do that we’ll have a great team, but we’re not into building great teams, we’re into building individuals, and I think I can be positive after this performance and say that we had some really good individuals playing to a high level.”
Southend United U18s: Harry Seaden, Miles Mitchell-Nelson, Ide Osimeh (Issa Mpenga, 89), Sam Brogan (Ben Dabbs, 68), Sam Knock, Jimmy Wallace, Terrell Egbri, O’Shane Stewart, Charlie Kelman, Matt Rush, Jon Benton (Freddy Eastwood Jnr, 77). Substitutes not used: Callum Taylor, Alex Bragg.
Goals: Rush (14), Kelman (16).
Cautioned: Egbri (90+3, adopting an aggressive attitude).