Southend United U23s suffered a 2-0 defeat to AFC Bournemouth at Aveley FC’s Parkside ground on Wednesday afternoon to end their participation in this season’s Central League Cup competition...
Kevin Maher’s side needed to beat the Cherries in their final South Group fixture to topple AFC Wimbledon at the top of the table and progress to an area final against Shrewsbury Town. However, two goals in two second-half minutes by Alex Dobre and Keelan O’Connell meant Bournemouth edged an evenly-matched encounter.
There was one change to the starting line-up that had been denied victory against Wimbledon in stoppage time with Michael Klass replacing Zak Pianim in midfield. Isaac Hutchinson, who made his league debut against Accrington Stanley on Saturday, and Norman Wabo, who returned from a loan spell at Braintree Town earlier in the week, were both included.
Blues made the brighter start to the game in an attacking sense after both sides took some time to assess their opponents. Wabo earned a corner in the seventh minute and then met the near-post delivery by Harry Phillips, but his aerial effort was easily saved by Callum Ward. Three minutes later Amadou Ba won a free-kick after a superb run through midfield, but Tom Clifford’s dead ball effort was directed over.
12 minutes had been played when Hutchinson had his first influence on the fixture. He won the ball on the halfway line and strode into the Bournemouth penalty area before delivering a stinging shot that Ward could only parry. Fortunately for the visiting goalkeeper Shaun Hobson was on hand to clear.
Bournemouth’s first chance to test Nathan Bishop arrived five minutes later when Eren Kinali upended O’Connell and Charlie Seamen’s free-kick swung narrowly wide of the left-hand upright, and Bishop was instead called into action for the first time midway through the opening period when he blocked Tyrell Hamilton’s effort at the near post following good play by Hobson and O’Connell.
Sam Knock was called upon to step across Dobre and halt his progress in the Blues penalty area just before the half-hour mark before play switched to the opposite end and Hutchinson picked out Wabo’s run down the inside-left channel. The forward got a first-time shot away but sent it over the crossbar.
An intelligent set-piece routine almost unlocked the Bournemouth defence in the 38th minute as Hutchinson rolled the ball inside to Klass and then continued his run in behind the back-line. Klass returned the compliment and Hutchinson saw his attempt smothered by Ward before the first half ended with Dobre flashing a 25-yard strike wide.
A draw would have sent Wimbledon into the knockout stages of the competition, but the game opened up in the early moments of the second period as both teams went for the win. Bishop made a comfortable save from O’Connell two minutes after the interval before Blues counter-attacked and Ba’s cut-back was miscontrolled by Harry Phillips at the far post with a chance to shoot.
Hobson was involved in an attacking role when he met Gavin Kilkenny’s right-wing free-kick shortly afterwards, but he directed the ball over from six yards out allowing Phillips the opportunity to give Southend the lead in the 54th minute as he received Ba’s pass and cut inside onto his right foot. Ward was able to gather the 15-yard strike easily.
Instead, it was the visitors that moved in front in the 56th minute. O’Connell moved inside from his left-wing berth to thread the ball between the Blues central defenders and Dobre galloped into possession before crashing a vicious strike in off the underside of the crossbar.
Southend now required two goals to progress and, although Hutchinson forced Hobson to block the ball out for a corner from Ba’s lay-off, their task was made even harder just before the hour mark when Bournemouth scored again. The hosts were caught on the break and, although Bishop made a good initial save, O’Connell was on hand to sweep the rebound into an unguarded net.
Maher sent on Emile Acquah for Ba in response, although it was Wabo who went agonisingly close to halving the deficit in the 63rd minute when his downward header from a Kinali cross was saved by Ward besides his left-hand upright.
Klass then dragged a 25-yard shot wide before Wabo sent a long-range attempt against the outside of the left-hand post following a Phillips pass as Southend continued to pose the visiting defence problems. However, despite the introduction of Renei Batlokwa and Zak Pianim, they couldn’t find a way through the Bournemouth back-line.
Hobson was a constant presence at the back, and he blocked Wabo’s attempt to turn in an Acquah centre in the 82nd minute before Klass got underneath his effort from the edge of the penalty area and fired over. In-between Bournemouth substitute Jake Scrimshaw forced a save from Bishop, but the Cherries had done enough to claim the victory that saw them win the South Group.
Southend United U18s: Nathan Bishop, Rob Howard, Tom Clifford, Michael Klass, Taylor Curran, Sam Knock, Eren Kinali (Renei Batlokwa, 73), Isaac Hutchinson (Zak Pianim, 73), Amadou Ba (Emile Acquah, 59), Norman Wabo, Harry Phillips. Substitutes not used: Josh Bexon, Miles Mitchell-Nelson.