Versatile first-year scholar Sam Knock is pleased to have played his part in a couple of solid defensive performances since returning from injury, including Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Stevenage U18s.
Knock completed an hour before being replaced by another long-term injury absentee, Dan Rogers, at centre-half as first-half goals by Emile Acquah and Sewa Marah helped Blues to secure a third consecutive runners-up spot in the EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference.
“It was a good game,” reported Knock after the final whistle. “I think we dominated the first half. In the second half we got a bit nervous on the ball and they took a chance which was a bit scrappy but we deserved to win.”
“They were struggling for points to get into Merit League One whereas we already knew we were in there but we wanted to show how good we are and, even if we had nothing to play for, we wanted to show we’re the better team and hopefully we can build on that in the Merit League and keep our good run going,” he added.
Knock partnered Miles Mitchell-Nelson at the heart of the defence for the second week in succession with Ide Osimeh returning from illness to play at left-back. Harry Cuthbert has linked up with Bostik League North Division club Brentwood Town on loan, so Zak Pianim was handed the captain’s armband. Matt Rush started a match for the first time since the end of November.
Academy Manager Ricky Duncan arranged for a minute’s applause to recognise Ray Davy’s sixty-plus years of service to the football club before his passing last week ahead of the fixture, and Blues were immediately on the front foot once the match started. Acquah saw a first-minute shot charged down and Terrell Egbri drilled the ball across the face of goal.
Harry Seaden’s goalkeeping exploits have been a key factor in Southend’s success this season, and he had to be at his best in the second minute to turn a fierce Macsen Fraser effort around the right-hand post. If that was a good chance for the visitors, Acquah had a better one for the hosts in the tenth minute when Stewart’s chipped pass put him through, but he prodded his finish into the grateful gloves of Harry Payne.
Matt Rush then curled a 25-yard free-kick over the crossbar before Acquah continued his remarkable goalscoring run midway through the opening period. Osimeh’s superb swinging corner kick delivery flew over Payne and Acquah was able to nod home from close-range to net for the seventh straight game and give his team the lead.
Blues were dominating the game, and Rush failed to get anything behind an attempt from Egbri’s first-time centre on 27 minutes, but the hosts did extend their lead six minutes before the break. Sewa Marah was making his 50th youth team appearance and he marked the occasion with his 22nd goal, turning home beyond Payne after Rush had latched onto an Acquah flick-on.
There were more opportunities for Southend early in the second period. After an Osimeh free-kick had crashed into the defensive wall, his follow-up attempt fizzed narrowly over before Payne made a good save besides his right-hand upright from Egbri’s swept finish.
After an hour Knock was withdrawn with the team 2-0 up, building on a clean sheet in his previous performance against MK Dons. “I think it’s good we haven’t conceded whilst I’ve been on the pitch in the last couple of games, even though I didn’t get a full ninety today. It’s a positive and I’m good for the next game, hopefully,” said Knock.
“I was gutted to have twelve weeks out and having surgery was the worst start to my scholarship but, in a way, it has strengthened me as I know what the downfalls are. I’ve built on that and it’s been hard to get in the team, but I’m glad to be back now and getting stronger.”
Rogers was straight into the action as he deflected a Joe Leslie effort into the side-netting, and the Stevenage forward drew a fine stop from Seaden from a similar position in the 61st minute. The goalkeeper had a more comfortable save when Leslie attempted to beat him from the edge of the penalty area from the ensuing corner.
Acquah nodded an Egbri cross wide shortly afterwards, and Marah also failed to force Payne into making a save when his side-footed strike from a Rush centre was deflected wide by Paul Field. Another Osimeh corner then caught out Payne again, but he was indebted to a combination of Dylan O’Donnell and Fraser as they scrambled the ball clear ahead of Mitchell-Nelson.
Blues were made to pay for those missed opportunities when Stevenage halved the deficit in the 72nd minute. The ball was cut back from the left-hand byeline and substitute Harry Draper was on hand to fire home from ten yards out.
Marah could have restored the two-goal advantage within three minutes, but he curled into Payne’s gloves from Rush’s pass and Southend instead were forced to hold firm during the final quarter-of-an-hour. Stevenage tried hard, with Marcus Gouldbourne brilliantly thwarted by Seaden, who made an incredible block at his near post from a one-on-one opportunity, but they couldn’t breach the Blues defence.
Dave Huzzey’s side had done enough to record a second successive victory, and Knock believes the squad can enjoy an even better second half to the campaign than the first: “I want the team to do well in the Merit League and I want us to strive to get first or second,” he declared.
“Hopefully we can finish first because I think we can win that league. Playing against MK Dons has been a good battle, but I think we’re better than them in the long run and last week showed how determined we were. I think we’ve got a good chance.”
Southend United U18s: Harry Seaden, Rob Howard, Ide Osimeh, Zak Pianim, Miles Mitchell-Nelson, Sam Knock, Terrell Egbri (Eren Kinali, 77), O’Shane Stewart, Emile Acquah, Matt Rush, Sewa Marah. Substitutes not used: Callum Taylor, Jon Benton, Marley Hutchings.
Goals: Acquah (22), Marah (39).
Cautioned: Seaden (90+2, delaying the restart of play).