Second-year striker Sewa Marah was pleased to link-up with his youth team colleagues and help them to secure a 2-2 draw with Northampton Town U18s on Saturday after spending time on loan at Aveley recently.
Marah has scored twice in eight appearances for the Bostik League North Division outfit, but a Friday night fixture at Parkside afforded him the opportunity to come off the substitutes' bench for the U18s as Emile Acquah and Charlie Kelman cancelled out leads for the Cobblers on two separate occasions.
“I thought the game was really good,” said Marah. “I haven’t been with the lads for a while, so I’ve seen them progress and it’s nice to come back and progress with them. We came back from 2-1 down and it was a really good battle. We stayed professional and got the draw.”
“Playing men’s football makes you stronger mentally and physically, so when you come back to the U18s it gives you a head-start. I have learnt how to manage the game properly going forward, knowing when it’s right to press or sit off, not having so many touches of the ball and getting shots off quicker.”
“I’ve also learnt how valuable it is to take your chance when you get it within games. You might only get one chance and you have to take it,” he added.
This match will be remembered for schoolboy Kelman's dramatic 87th minute equaliser as he sweetly fired home from 25 yards out to register his first youth team goal after Ide Osimeh's whipped left-wing cross had been nodded away from Marah, who had words of encouragement for the youngster.
“I don’t remember my first youth team goal, but that was a really good goal by the young man. You feel you have to prove a point to yourself and to everyone else that you are capable of doing what a striker can do, so it’s good for him,” he said.
“I can remember my first goal for Aveley in November. I was buzzing! Before the game started the gaffer told me I should go on the goalkeeper at corners, but when the corner came, I forgot so the ball landed to me and when it went in I was absolutely happy and everyone else was happy for me. It was a good feeling,” Marah revealed.
Youth team coach Dave Huzzey gave Rob Howard a first start at right-back as Dan Humphreys continued his work experience at Lowestoft Town, whilst Zak Pianim returned from his own loan spell at Harlow Town to partner Sam Knock at the heart of the defence.
In what was the first match of 2018 for the teenage Shrimpers, the hosts made the worst possible start as they conceded after just three minutes. Northampton broke down the left-hand side and the ball was squared to James Gillard, who slotted into the bottom right-hand corner to make it 1-0.
Harry Seaden had been due to play for Cambridge City, but when their match against Hanwell was postponed he returned to Boots & Laces and Blues were thankful for his presence in the eighth minute as he made a brilliant double save. First he effected a block from a fierce shot at his near post before leaping up to tip the follow-up over from in front of the top left-hand corner.
However, Southend responded well and, after a quarter-of-an-hour, they were level. Howard's throw was returned to him by Eren Kinali and the full-back quickly found Jon Benton, who delivered a teasing cross for Emile Acquah to slide in ahead of the goalkeeper and convert for the fourth consecutive game.
It was the forward's 13th goal of the current campaign, and he almost added a 14th within sixty seconds as he narrowly failed to meet Kinali's right-wing centre. Harry Cuthbert also fired over during a good spell for Blues, but they couldn't create any further openings despite putting together some good moves.
There was plenty of needle present in the match, but Blues stayed on the right side of the aggression even if it did affect their attacking prowess. Instead the Cobblers had a chance to restore their lead just before the break when Knock misplaced a pass, but Seaden stood up to make an impressive stop with his legs.
The England U17s custodian began the second period in a similar vein, extending his right arm to its full length to turn a strike against the base of the left-hand upright after Pianim had been caught out, but Blues were finally punished on 63 minutes when a swift left-sided move ended with a fierce volley beyond Seaden by Sean Whaler.
Jon Benton had curled over when presented with a useful position from which to shoot following a foul on Acquah, and Marah's introduction for Terrell Egbri signalled an intent to possess a further goal threat. Matt Rush made his comeback from injury in place of Cuthbert, and he immediately thumped a shot into a defender from distance.
Benton dragged wide from Howard's simple pass midway through the second half but Acquah went even closer to an equaliser on 71 minutes when he imperiously rose to meet a Howard cross. However, he succeeded only in heading against the crossbar with the goalkeeper beaten.
Pianim had to clear off the goal-line when the ball was squared beyond Seaden shortly afterwards, but Blues were soon attacking again an O'Shane Stewart saw a long-range shot blocked before Marah's acrobatic follow-up drifted agonisingly wide. However, Kelman's outstanding strike brought Blues level with three minutes remaining, and both sides almost snatched victory late on.
Firstly Seaden produced further heroics by making another outstanding one-on-one save before hooking the loose ball to safety and then, at the opposite end, Kelman was denied a stunning winner in the third minute of stoppage time when his effort from the edge of the 'D' was deflected wide.
Marah was pleased with his involvement and, when the time is right to return permanently from Aveley, he intends to grab his chance, having been helped along the way by Academy Manager Ricky Duncan: “I think I’ve moulded in quite well at Aveley and, when I have got my chances, I have taken them. It’s good for Norman Wabo that he has got into the first-team here, but I’ll be right behind him trying to get my chance as well!”
“I joined Southend at U15s. I was trialling at a few clubs; I went to Leicester, Millwall, Charlton and I was at Stoke for quite a while as well, but when I came here I had an instant connection with Rick. He told me that as long as I work hard things will happen and still today I believe that, so I will keep on working hard and hopefully it will work out.”
“It gives me a lot of motivation to know that I have a chance here. It’s just a case of when and how I am going to get it, but I know there’s definitely a chance if I work hard. Hopefully in the future I’ll be involved in the first-team,” he declared.
Southend United U18s: Harry Seaden, Rob Howard, Ide Osimeh, O’Shane Stewart, Sam Knock, Zak Pianim, Eren Kinali (Charlie Kelman, 78), Harry Cuthbert (Matt Rush, 65), Emile Acquah, Jon Benton, Terrell Egbri (Sewa Marah, 56). Substitutes not used: Callum Taylor, Dan Rogers.
Goals: Acquah (15), Kelman (87).
Cautioned: Knock (75, foul tackle), Jon Benton (90+1, foul tackle).