Southend United’s progress in the BBC Essex Senior Cup was halted at the Quarter-Final stage by current holders Billericay Town after a 6-2 defeat at The AGP Arena...
Kevin Maher’s side had lost 7-3 to Billericay in the Third Round of last season’s competition and, despite two goals inside sixty seconds from Norman Wabo and Michael Klass to make it 2-2 after just 17 minutes, a hat-trick by Billy Clifford provided the fulcrum of an impressive attacking display by the hosts as they replicated the four-goal margin of victory.
Blues had won both of their previous matches in the competition 5-2, against Harlow Town and Waltham Abbey, but they were without Isaac Hutchinson, who had scored four goals against the Abbots in the Fourth Round before progressing into the first-team set-up. Ted Smith was able to make his second U23s appearance of the season having also featured in the EFL Trophy defeat to Portsmouth seven days previously.
The game started with Billericay on the front foot and former Southend loanee Jamar Loza cut in from the left flank to draw an unconventional save from Smith in the second minute as he turned away a strong shot with his shoulder. A minute later it was 1-0 as a long ball caught out the Blues back-line and Ross Lafayette was given too much space to beat Smith from eight yards out.
Smith made an impressive stop in the sixth minute to push out a well-struck Devonte Aransibia effort from 20 yards out before the visitors attacked for the first time. Emile Acquah’s slide-rule pass released Renei Batlokwa, who saw his rasping shot tipped away from the top right-hand goalkeeper by custodian Mark Smith. From the resulting Harry Phillips flag-kick, Wabo nodded innocuously into the side-netting.
Wabo also saw a low effort gathered by Smith before namesake Ted did well to prevent a second Billericay goal in the ninth minute after Nathan Minhas had turned Taylor Curran. Smith read the situation well to scoop the ball up at Aransibia’s toecaps.
Unfortunately it was 2-0 in the 11th minute as Billericay’s whirlwind start continued. The goal came courtesy of Clifford, who steered the ball brilliantly between the outstretched left glove of Smith and the inside of the right-hand post to double the advantage from 20 yards out.
Lafayette could have made it three inside the opening quarter-of-an-hour after Jake Howells had combined with Loza on the left, but the ball was scrambled to safety and instead Blues halved the deficit in the 16th minute when Wabo embarked on a superb solo run. He danced down the left-hand side before cutting in and firing clinically into the bottom right-hand corner to make it 2-1.
Incredibly, almost straight from the kick-off, Southend hauled themselves level through former Queens Park Rangers youngster Klass. The midfielder picked up possession in the centre of the pitch and strode through unchallenged before deftly dinking the ball over Smith and into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
In that 7-3 defeat last season Southend had never been level once Town hit the front so parity suggested, briefly, that there was hope for the Shrimpers, but that was snuffed out in the 19th minute when Clifford’s second goal of the evening edged the home side in front. Danny Waldren’s off-target header was retrieved before it went out and the midfielder brilliantly bent his shot around Smith from just inside the penalty area.
On the half-hour mark Wabo saw a deflection take the sting out of a shot that failed to trouble Mark Smith, allowing Billericay to restore their two-goal advantage eleven minutes before half-time. This time a right-wing corner wasn’t sufficiently cleared and Kieron Cadogan’s driven attempt was deflected past an unsighted Ted Smith.
Despite the setback, Blues continued to attack with purpose and Wabo almost brought the visitors back into the game with some more magic, this time from the right-hand side of the penalty area. He managed to cut the ball back from the goal-line to Phillips, but the playmaker was denied by a good block inside the six-yard box.
By the time the referee’s half-time whistle blew, Blues had actually registered more shots than their hosts, with Phillips curling a free-kick well over after Klass had been felled 30 yards from goal, and they could take a crumb of comfort from having bounced back from a two-goal deficit at the break in each of their previous two outings in the competition.
However, even though Batlokwa smashed a 25-yard shot over following a neat interchange with Wabo early in a more sedate second period, National League South opposition would prove to be too much for Maher’s men. Minhas turned in the penalty area to draw a fine save from Smith in the 53rd minute, but a foul ten minutes led to a penalty for Town.
Taylor Curran was booked for his remonstrations that the offence occurred outside the area, but the referee waved away his protests and Clifford had the opportunity to complete his hat-trick from twelve yards out, sending Smith the wrong way with a well-delivered spot-kick.
Former England U18s international Smith then make a good low save to turn away a Minhas strike midway through the second half ahead of further fine work to beat out an Aransibia effort and then touch substitute Moses Emmanuel’s away from danger.
However, he was beaten for a sixth and final time three minutes from the end of the match when another Billericay replacement, Adam Coombes, was picked out in space by Waldren’s long ball into the penalty area and he drilled the ball into the bottom right-hand corner.
Southend’s young team will have learnt a number of lessons from their exploits in the competition as they reached the quarter-finals for the first time in six seasons. The next fixture for the U23s is away to Peterborough United in the Central League on 29th January.
Southend United U23s: Ted Smith, Rob Howard, Tom Clifford, Zak Pianim (Eren Kinali, 81), Taylor Curran, Sam Knock (Miles Mitchell-Nelson, 46), Renei Batlokwa, Michael Klass, Emile Acquah (Amadou Ba, 67), Norman Wabo, Harry Phillips. Substitutes not used: Josh Bexon, O’Shane Stewart.
Goals: Wabo (16), Klass (17).
Cautioned: Batlokwa (56, foul), Curran (64, dissent), Klass (66, foul), Phillips (79, foul).