Southend United U23s suffered a heavy defeat to Peterborough United as they returned to Central League South Division action at the Mick George Training Academy...
Oli Shackleton put Posh in front early on, but it was a hat-trick by Isaac Buckley-Ricketts that underpinned the victory for the hosts. He scored just before half-time and then again on the hour and, although Norman Wabo converted a penalty for Blues, Buckley-Ricketts netted his third before Morgan Penfold completed the scoring in the 83rd minute.
Ted Smith continued his return from injury in goal for Southend, and he was called into action as early as the third minute when skipper Rob Howard committed a foul just outside the penalty area. Penfold’s free-kick was blocked, but the follow-up was drilled goalwards and Smith leapt to his right to save at the foot of the left-hand post.
Shackleton’s set-piece from the edge of the ‘D’ in the sixth minute, swept under Southend’s defensive wall, was easily gathered by the gloveman and, after he had punched away a right-wing cross sixty seconds later, Buckley-Ricketts dragged an effort wide from the edge of the penalty box.
Blues had been forced onto the back foot in the early stages of the match, but they responded well and Wabo was inches away from connecting with Eren Kinali’s ninth-minute centre. Shortly afterwards Josh Allen was called into action in the Peterborough goal, making a good stop at his near post when Wabo fired towards goal after Kinali had won possession in midfield.
In the 12th minute Blues went even closer to breaking the deadlock. Isaac Hutchinson delivered a free-kick deep to the far post and Sam Knock got up to meet the ball, but his goalbound attempt was cleared off the line by a defender.
Buckley-Ricketts almost slipped Jack Gurney through after a quarter-of-an-hour, but the midfielder skewed his shot wide after Smith came off his line to narrow the angle. Unfortunately parity would last just three further minutes as Peterborough took the lead. The ball was switched from left to right, and then back to the left flank again, from where Shackleton cut inside and curled beyond Smith, with Knock unable to clear on the line.
Blues were rocked initially but, driven forwards by Michael Klass and Hutchinson from midfield, they bounced back and Wabo snatched at a shot from 20 yards out after exchanging passes with Klass in the 26th minute. Two minutes later it was Renei Batokwa that linked the play, giving and receiving possession from Wabo and Harry Phillips before offloading to Wabo, who lost out to a defender as he entered the penalty area.
Within seconds Southend had won the ball back and Hutchinson managed to get a deflected shot away, only to find first-year scholar Allen in superb form again, falling away to his right to push the ball to safety. Play then switched to the opposite end, when Gurney volleyed across the face of goal.
Allen continued to produce heroics, denying Klass in the 35th minute after the midfielder galloped onto Hutchinson’s through-ball. Even when he was in less conventional form, stopping a Hutchinson strike with his knee, Allen recovered to smother Wabo’s follow-up before Kinali nodded over from close-range.
Southend were dominating, both in possession and territory, and Phillips saw a shot blocked before Allen thwarted Kinali with his legs following an inch-perfect slide-rule pass by Hutchinson. Then came the sucker-punch as Posh doubled the lead in the final minute of the first half, Buckley-Ricketts impudently flicking the ball past Smith from point-blank range to leave the 23-year-old goalkeeper with no chance.
It was a goal of real class, and coach Kevin Maher’s reaction was to introduce Charlie Kelman in place of Hutchinson at half-time. Blues began the second period with Batlokwa curling over from 25 yards out, and they almost halved their arrears in the 56th minute when Allen came out of his area to prevent Wabo from connecting with Kelman’s through-ball.
The loose ball then fell to Kelman, who spotted the goalkeeper out of position and looped a shot over the custodian, who was grateful that a defender had spotted the danger and got back to clear. At the other end Smith made a fine save at full-stretch, reaching up to push a fierce Penfold effort over the crossbar.
On the hour mark, Peterbrough extended their advantage through Buckley-Ricketts. He doubled his personal tally for the afternoon after latching onto a pass down the right-hand side of the penalty area to steer the ball into the opposite corner of the net.
Within two minutes Southend were on the scoresheet. Wabo had already been tugged back as he sought to enter the penalty area and he was then brought down by a defender. The referee pointed to the spot and Wabo brushed himself down before converting his tenth competitive U23s goal of the campaign from twelve yards out.
The forward could have added another midway through the second half, but his powerful header from a Harry Phillips corner was directly narrowly over. Klass’ shot was then deflected over before Kelman became the latest Blues player to be frustrated by Allen, who beat away his fierce strike from 15 yards out.
Any doubt over the destination of the points was settled in the 79th minute. Allen came out swiftly to clear the ball from Phillips’ toecaps, and Peterborough hit Southend on the counter-attack. This time the ball was moved down the inside-left channel and Buckley-Ricketts make no mistake with an intelligent finish.
Four minutes later the hosts completed the scoring through Penfold, who had the simplest of tasks to tap in a substitute’s right-wing cross. There was a late opportunity for Knock to register a consolation, but another header from a Phillips corner was cleared and Blues were made to pay for not getting the basics right on the day.
Southend United U23s: Ted Smith, Dan Humphreys (Miles Mitchell-Nelson, 68), Tom Clifford, Michael Klass (Amadou Ba, 80), Sam Knock, Rob Howard, Eren Kinali (O’Shane Stewart, 68)gf, Renei Batlokwa, Norman Wabo, Isaac Hutchinson (Charlie Kelman, 46), Harry Phillips. Substitute not used: Josh Bexon.
Goal: Wabo (62 pen).
Cautioned: Kelman (57, foul).