Southend United’s chances of winning the EFL Youth Alliance Merit League One title suffered a blow after they were defeated, 3-2, by Swindon Town U18s in Chippenham on Wednesday afternoon...
Blues went into the match knowing that victories in their final four matches of the season would seal a first-ever Merit League One championship, but they will now have to bounce back against AFC Wimbledon on Saturday to give themselves a chance of overhauling the Dons, Oxford United and Swindon.
Youth team coach Dave Huzzey was able to call upon forward Charlie Kelman for the first time in 2019 following his first-team exploits as Blues got some important minutes into the 17-year-old’s legs. The visitors to Stanley Park also gave a debut to Burnley trialist Richard Taylor, who is a second-year centre-back with the Clarets.
The teenage Shrimpers, who went into the match on the back of an impressive 3-1 victory over Northampton Town, made the worst possible start when they fell behind in just the second minute. Sam Brogan made an important block to concede a corner, which was taken short and swung into the penalty area from the right flank and Luke Haines was perfectly-positioned to guide an unmarked header into top right-hand corner.
The goal rocked Southend and they struggled to impose themselves on the match as a consequence. In the ninth minute a winger got around Reiss Chandler and Sam Knock had to step across to clear, and it was not until another four minutes had passed until Blues ventured into the Swindon box with Matt Rush feeding Kelman, but the forward couldn’t get the ball out of his feet.
Five minutes later Rush picked out Freddy Eastwood in the area, but a defender got across to clear and, in the 21st minute, Eastwood was denied for a second time when his ferocious strike was too much for goalkeeper Sam Smith to hold. Fortunately for the custodian a defender was positioned on the goal-line to usher the ball to safety.
Although Southend enjoyed lots of possession in their own half, they were unable to make regular progress into the attacking third and, when a quick throw by Eastwood found Rush and he offloaded quickly to Terrell Egbri, the winger dragged his shot wide of the left-hand upright.
Even after one of their best moments Blues were susceptible to the counter-attack, and Harry Seaden was forced to dive full-length to palm a shot across the face of goal. Two minutes later a wayward Ide Osimeh pass gifted Swindon an opportunity, but a midfielder slashed wide. The opening period then ended with Osimeh going forwards to set up Egbri, but he leant backwards as he shot and fired over as a result.
If Huzzey was content that Blues had restricted chances for the home side during the first half, he would have been concerned with the lack of action for Smith, and that pattern continued after the break with a Swindon winger having the first shot of the second period when he drove an effort over in the 58th minute.
Somewhat out of the blue, Southend equalised on the hour mark. Eastwood delivered an inswinging corner from the left flank which was nodded out as far as Osimeh, who was waiting just inside the penalty area. The full-back advanced before sending a deflected shot beyond Smith to level the scores.
Parity would last just sixty seconds. Almost straight from the kick-off Blues conceded a free-kick, which was floated beyond the far post to the right flank. The ball was centred and schoolboy striker Harry Parsons glanced the ball past Seaden from close range to edge the Robins in front for a second time.
The match become frenetic with Taylor’s appeals for a penalty waved away by the referee and O’Shane Stewart curling over at one end and a Swindon attacker nodding wide from close range at the other during the next ten minutes.
Huzzey introduced Ahmet Biler and Bobby Unwin as he sought to revive Southend’s fortunes, and it almost worked as Biler combined with Brogan to locate Eastwood in the 80th minute. He deftly chipped the ball down the right flank for Kelman to chase, and the forward held off a defender before stabbing goalwards on the turn. Smith was equal to the task, grabbing hold of the six-yard strike.
Two minutes later, the match slipped further from Southend’s grasp. A booming Smith goal-kick was chased down by three Swindon forwards, and the bravery of Sonny Haynes squeezed the ball into the path of Parsons, who steered his finish beyond Seaden.
Huzzey threw on Benas Vaivada and Issa Mpenga for the final six minutes and, after Eastwood had nodded an Osimeh cross wide, Rush gave Southend hope in stoppage time when he turned home from ten yards out following brilliant work by schoolboy Unwin down the left-hand side. There was little time remaining, however, and Blues had given themselves too much to do.
Southend United U18s: Harry Seaden, Reiss Chandler (Ahmet Biler, 75), Ide Osimeh, Sam Brogan (Benas Vaivada, 84), Sam Knock, Richard Taylor, Terrell Egbri, O’Shane Stewart (Bobby Unwin, 75), Charlie Kelman (Issa Mpenga, 84), Matt Rush, Freddy Eastwood. Substitute not used: Callum Taylor.Goals: Osimeh (60), Rush (90+2).