Southend United’s U18s captain Sam Knock experienced a rollercoaster of emotions as Blues secured a point from their EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference meeting with Luton Town...
Central defender Knock conceded a first-half penalty, which was converted by Drew Richardson, as the Hatters took a 20th-minute lead, but he was then thrown up front for the closing stages of the encounter and repaid youth team coach Dave Huzzey’s faith by scoring his fourth goal of the season with just two minutes remaining to earn his side a 1-1 draw.
“I loved going up front, especially as it was my fault for their goal,” said Knock after the match. “I loved getting the chance to get the team back and I did that, so I’m happy now and relieved that I didn’t cost the team all three points.”
“At least we got a point out of the game, and I thought we deserved that. This goal meant the most out of all of them because it meant that I didn’t cost the team. My relief showed in my celebration because I couldn’t stop shouting,” he added.
Blues lined up in a 3-5-2 formation for the second week in succession, although this time fit-again Reiss Chandler started at right wing-back in place for Terrell Egbri. First-year scholar Freddy Eastwood Jnr was preferred to the more experienced Jon Benton in midfield.
It was a bitterly cold morning at Boots & Laces, but Blues began the game brightly and delivered the first shot in the eight minute when Matt Rush found Eastwood and his effort from 15 yards out was deflected wide for a corner. Six minutes later Eastwood turned provider as he set up Charlie Kelman, who saw his attempt blocked at close quarters by Luton skipper Corey Panter.
Rush then did well to steal the ball from Town goalkeeper Tiernan Parker, but full-back Callum Nicholson managed to clear and that meant Luton could take the lead when Knock brought down Jonas Kalonda. The second-year had just made a fine challenge on Tra Lucas, but he failed to win the ball with his next tackle and Richardson sent Harry Seaden the wrong way from the penalty spot.
Blues went close to an equaliser in the 25th minute when Ide Osimeh’s left-wing centre was met by Rush and he hooked the ball against the crossbar from eight yards out, and he later drew a good save from Parker with a curling effort from the edge of the penalty area. In between Seaden stood tall to beat away Kalonda’s fierce near-post strike.
Luton spurned a good opportunity to double their lead when Josh Bourn chipped over from a right-wing cross six minutes before the break, but the Hatters maintained their lead into the interval after Rush was thwarted again by custodian Parker at the end of a flowing move involving O’Shane Stewart, Sam Brogan, Chandler and Eastwood.
Huzzey reverted to 4-4-2 at half-time, and Knock admitted it has been useful to try different formations: “We learn lots about formations but, when it comes to the day, you’ve got to think about where you should be,” he explained.
“It’s quite hard to adapt, but we got used to playing 3-5-2 and when we switched to four at the back we were fine and we knew where we had to be because we’ve played like that during the season. It has been good to play 3-5-2 so we can adapt to it in any game now.”
Richardson fired wide for the visitors early on, whilst Brogan saw an attempt from Eastwood’s pass diverted out for a corner at the other end. Another Richardson effort was claimed above his head by Seaden, and Blues began to impose their will on the game as the second half progressed.
Ben Dabbs, who had replaced Jimmy Wallace at the break, saw a 15-yard half-volley saved by Parker midway through the second half, and seconds later another substitute, Benton, exchanged passes with Kelman before drilling the ball across the six-yard box. Rush got a toe to the cross, but the ball went agonisingly wide of the right-hand post and out of the reach of the onrushing Eastwood.
Luton’s Bourn fired over again, this time from Josh Neufville’s cut-back, in the 70th minute, and Lucas smashed over from 30 yards shortly afterwards as the Hatters attempted to put the game to bed. Southend’s response was to add more firepower to their attack as Issa Mpenga replaced O’Shane Stewart with eleven minutes remaining.
Mpenga was almost immediately found by Eastwood, but he tried to square to Rush instead of shooting and Parker picked up the ball. As time drifted on, Knock was encouraged to stay up front to offer an aerial threat, and he delivered with two minutes left, albeit on the ground, as Kelman’s right-wing centre dropped into his path and he slammed the ball into the back of the net from around ten yards out.
Blues went all-out for a victory, and Eastwood saw his near-post attempt deflected wide by Toby Byron just seconds after the equaliser. In stoppage time Knock touched on a Benton free-kick and Kelman tried to flick the ball over Parker, but the goalkeeper grabbed the attempt underneath the crossbar and the sides had to be content with a share of the spoils.
“As I team I thought we played well,” said Knock. “We needed to create a few more chances and, defensively, in the first half I thought we were a bit shaky but in the second half we were better. We’ve got to move forward and get into the top Merit League now.”
“After The FA Youth Cup we were all down because that’s what everyone looks forward to. Now we’ve got to grips with it we need to start picking it up. Today was a glimpse that if we can stay in the game we’ll get back into it.”
“We need to get on a run of form. I thought we’d done that with the 6-0 win over Leyton Orient but, after that, we dropped again. Now we’ve got to go on and make sure we get in the top Merit League and get through to the Youth Alliance Cup final as well,” Knock concluded.
Southend United U18s: Harry Seaden, Reiss Chandler, Ide Osimeh, Sam Knock, Miles Mitchell-Nelson, Jimmy Wallace (Ben Dabbs, 46), O’Shane Stewart (Issa Mpenga, 79), Sam Brogan (Jon Benton, 65), Charlie Kelman, Matt Rush, Freddy Eastwood Jnr. Substitutes not used: Callum Taylor, Bradley Bennett.
Goals: Knock (88).