Southend United U18s kicked off their EFL Youth Alliance Merit League One campaign in style with a superb 3-1 victory over AFC Bournemouth at Boots & Laces...
Blues bounced back from conceding a second-minute goal to the Cherries for the second time this season to record an impressive win as Terrell Egbri, Emile Acquah and Sam Knock turned the match on its head. Acquah also missed a second-half penalty that could’ve made the scoreline even more comfortable.
Bournemouth have reached the quarter-finals of The FA Youth Cup this season, with an upcoming last eight tie against Manchester City on the horizon. Alan Connell’s side had also only been beaten twice in the league all season - on both occasions by Exeter City - although this also represented a second defeat to the Shrimpers this term after a 3-1 Youth Alliance Cup reverse in October.
Dave Huzzey made three changes to the team that had been beaten by Exeter in the area final of the Youth Alliance Cup. Matt Rush returned to Great Wakering Rovers on a work experience loan - where he notched his first goal in senior football against Witham Town later that afternoon - and was replaced by Emile Acquah, whilst Issa Mpenga started instead of trialist Mekhi Hyde.
The other change came at left-back, where Alex Bragg was named ahead of Ide Osimeh. Bragg was one of four schoolboys to feature in the fixture, with Bobby Unwin coming on during the second period ahead of Tommy Lambourne and Ergis Shala, both of whom were making their competitive youth team debuts.
The visitors made the perfect start to the encounter when they took the lead with the first meaningful attack of the game. Luke Pardoe combined with Luke Gray as Bournemouth swept forward, and he then found Brooklyn Genesini in the penalty area. The right wing-back dribbled the ball around the advancing Harry Seaden before firing into the net.
Blues looked for a swift response and they could have levelled within sixty seconds when Egbri found Freddy Eastwood on the edge of the penalty area, but he dragged his effort wide of the right-hand post. Four minutes later Mpenga tried to get the better of Tom Hanfrey, but the muscular defender held him off to clear.
However, Southend managed to level in the ninth minute when Egbri contributed his ninth goal of the season. The winger’s finish owed much to Acquah, who won the ball on the halfway line before embarking on a strong run and offloading to Egbri just inside the penalty area. The second-year scholar made no mistake with a precise finish dispatched just inside the far post.
Mpenga, who linked up well with Acquah throughout, could’ve put Blues in front after a quarter-of-an-hour, but he half-volleyed across the face of goal before sending a fierce strike over just a few seconds later. In the 18th minute left-back Bragg almost made a real impression as he galloped down the left flank before smashing a vicious shot narrowly wide of the right-hand upright.
Seaden had been well-placed to break up any Bournemouth attacks to that point and, when the away side threatened through Genesini again in the 20th minute, he was indebted to Ben Dabbs for helping him out. The right-back stepped across James Oliver to make a crucial challenge and win the ball just outside the six-yard box.
The game was being played at real pace, and O’Shane Stewart drew a fine save from Cherries custodian Will Dennis midway through the opening period after Eastwood and Mpenga had combined to set-up the midfielder. Shortly afterwards Eastwood unselfishly laid the ball into the path of Mpenga, who was challenged well by Hanfrey.
Dennis also made a fine save in the 31st minute to push out a fierce Mpenga effort, but Bournemouth were not without their opportunities and only the quick-thinking of Seaden prevented Pardoe from getting a shot away from Jake Cope’s through-ball. Later in the half Knock and Miles Mitchell-Nelson both read play well to snuff out attacks and ensure the teams went in all-square at the interval.
The second period started with Genesini forcing Seaden to scramble along his goal-line to save a curling left-footed finish, but Eastwood had also twice gone close before Blues hit the front. Acquah had just seen an attempt brilliantly deflected over by Dennis when Eastwood’s 52nd-minute corner was flicked on at the near-post by Mitchell-Nelson and the tall front-man stooped to nod in at the back post.
Two minutes later Mitchell-Nelson had the chance to add to his goal tally for season as Eastwood’s driven set-piece eluded Dennis, but the centre-back couldn’t react quickly enough to divert the ball into the net. Blues were then dealt a blow as Stewart limped off injured; Unwin replaced him and Eastwood moved into a deeper-lying central midfield role alongside Sam Brogan.
The position seemed to suit the first-year scholar as he first worked well with Acquah to assist Egbri, who skied his 25-yard effort, and then forced Dennis into a full-length save with a skidding strike from distance. From the resulting corner Eastwood’s delivery was helped on by Mitchell-Nelson for Knock, who was denied a goal by Nathan Moriah-Welsh on the goal-line.
There was still over 20 minutes remaining, and a driven Oliver shot into Seaden’s midriff served notice that the result was certainly not confirmed. In the 74th minute Mitchell-Nelson also did well to wrap his right leg around the ball and prevent Moriah-Welsh from pulling the trigger.
In between Eastwood’s outstanding pass released Acquah, who took a heavy touch and allowed Dennis to save at his feet, and the forward had an even better opportunity to make it 3-1 with ten minutes remaining when Hanfrey kicked him and the referee awarded a penalty. Dennis guessed correctly and turned the spot-kick around the post to keep Bournemouth in touch.
However, Southend made sure that they would register a victory in the first Merit League match of the season five minutes later when Eastwood’s corner dropped to Brogan on the edge of the penalty area. The midfielder sent the ball into the box and skipper Knock smashed home via the underside of the crossbar to extinguish any lingering doubts.
Southend United U18s: Harry Seaden, Ben Dabbs, Alex Bragg, Sam Brogan, Sam Knock, Miles Mitchell-Nelson, Terrell Egbri, O’Shane Stewart (Bobby Unwin, 56), Emile Acquah, Issa Mpenga (Tommy Lambourne, 76), Freddy Eastwood (Ergis Shala, 88). Substitute not used: Callum Taylor.
Goals: Egbri (9), Acquah (52), Knock (85).