Despite scoring his third goal of the season, Southend United U18s forward Charlie Kelman was left frustrated after Blues suffered their first league defeat of 2018/19.
“It was disappointing,” said Kelman after the match. “In the first half we weren’t good enough and we didn’t get stuck in, but in the second half we came out fighting. We got a goal and we were on front foot, and that was what mattered, but we couldn’t close it out and it’s been the same for the past few weeks. There has been some complacency in the team, but once we sort that out we’ll start creeping up the league.”
Youth team coach Dave Huzzey made one change to the starting line-up that had drawn 2-2 with Northampton Town in their previous league outing as captain Sam Knock returned to the side in place of schoolboy Jimmy Wallace at the heart of the defence.
Stevenage looked organised in the early stages but it was Blues who almost created the first outing when Terrell Egbri’s slide-rule pass nearly released Matt Rush, only for defender Gill to step across to make a fine tackle. In the tenth minute Rush combined with O’Shane Stewart to set up Egbri on the edge of the penalty area, but this time the attacker to send a wayward effort over off his shin.
Jon Benton also dragged an effort wide after good link-up play by Egbri and Stewart, and Rush side-footed off-target from Stewart’s cut-back as Southend looked the more likelier to score. However, in the 19th minute Stevenage’s structured play reaped dividends as a right-wing centre was converted by Dillon O’Donnell with a vicious strike that connected with the net via the underside of the crossbar.
Harry Draper almost made it 2-0 five minutes later, but his close-range header was planted wide of the left-hand upright before Seaden made a brilliant smothering stop. On the half-hour mark the former England U17s shostopper flung himself to his left palm away another goal-bound attempt was Blues were forced onto the back foot.
Stevenage’s tenacious approach began limiting opportunities for the hosts, and indeed they extended their advantage in the 34th minute when Reiss Chandler surrendered possession in the Boro half and the visitors moved swiftly down the middle of the pitch before Jack Smith swept the ball into the bottom left-hand corner.
Worse almost followed late in the first half when a Stevenage header passed narrowly wide of the right post and another injury-time attempt was angled across the face of goal. Kelman, who sent a curling effort over at the other end, said: “We knew we weren’t good enough in the first half. We have high standards, and we didn’t reach those in the first half. We knew we had to put it right, but sometimes results don’t go your way.”
Southend were a completely different proposition after the interval. With their coach evoking memories of their own previous fixture, when they lost a two-goal half-time advantage, Blues were much more aggressive. Indeed, Egbri twice caused the restart to be delayed by encroaching into the centre circle as Stevenage attempted to kick off.
Within sixty seconds, the teenage Shrimpers were back in contention. Midfielder Sam Brogan floated a delightful pass down the right-hand side and Kelman lofted the ball over the head of his marker before firing into the bottom left-hand corner.
“It was another goal, but it’s not all about me, it’s about the team,” claimed Kelman. “I’ll keep on scoring goals, but it’s the results I care about because I’m a winner. I want to win and I want the team to win, and that’s all that matters. We all want to win and we came out with some fire.”
“When the ball came to me, I knew I was going to score. I knew it was going to get us back in the game and that’s all that mattered. It did play a big role, but anyone could’ve scored the goal and it was just good that it was me,” he added.
The goal galvanised the home side. O’Shane Stewart curled narrowly off-target, Jon Benton steered wide of the left-hand post and Miles Mitchell-Nelson angled a header past the upright in the space of two minutes. Stewart also saw a prodded close-range attempt hacked to safety before he was culpable for bringing down a Stevenage attacker in the opposite penalty area.
Seaden ensured Blues maintained their momentum by saving the spot-kick, guessing correctly to parry the ball out before Knock managed to slide in and clear the ball to safety. The hosts managed to regain their composure and Stewart saw Harry Payne make a superb full-length stop to tip his skidding strike wide midway through the second half.
In the 69th minute, Southend hauled themselves level. Benton picked up the ball on the left-hand side and his cross, intended for the in-form Rush, was cut out by Gill and nodded past Payne and into his own goal. For a while Blues even threatened to take the lead as a Kelman effort was blocked and then his attempt from a Benton corner was somehow scrambled off the line.
Then came the sucker-punch. With twelve minutes remaining a fine strike bounced back off the crossbar and Stevenage kept the ball alive, with a right-wing cross nodded home at the near post by Draper. Chances were limited thereafter and, even with the addition of five minutes of stoppage time, the best they could muster was a hopeful Mitchell-Nelson header.
The result left Kelman in a reflective mood about the initial stages of the 2018/19 campaign: “It’s been an alright start to the season for me,” he stated. “I’m used to scoring two or three goals a game, but eventually I’ll get there! You’re only as good as your last game, so I’ve just got to get back in training and working hard to go again next Saturday.”
“It hasn’t felt like much of a step up because I’ve spent a lot of time around the U23s and the first-team. It is different to last year, but I’ve adapted to that and I’m strong and quick and that helps me. I’ve also got a good team around me so it hasn’t been a big step up.”
“It’s been a good experience to be around the U23s, but I’m just taking everything on board. Hopefully I will get an opportunity with the first-team, so I’m working hard every day and I want to learn every day and apply that to my game.”
“Nathan [Bishop] and Dru [Yearwood] have been good to me. They let me know when I’m doing well. I know that I’m working hard and when the opportunity comes I will take it. There are a few games coming up and hopefully I will be involved with them, but if not, when the times comes, I’ll be ready.”
Southend United U18s: Harry Seaden, Reiss Chandler, Ide Osimeh, Sam Brogan (Issa Mpangea, 87), Miles Mitchell-Nelson, Sam Knock, O’Shane Stewart, Jon Benton, Charlie Kelman, Terrell Egbri, Matt Rush (Freddy Eastwood, 82). Substitutes not used: Callum Taylor, Jimmy Wallace.
Goals: Kelman (46), Gill (69, own goal).
Cautioned: Stewart (81, dissent).