Southend United U18s completed the first phase of their league season with a 1-0 defeat to EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference champions Northampton Town at Boots & Laces on Saturday...
Blues, who had an opportunity to finish the campaign with a third consecutive runners-up placing, ended up one position lower after their defeat allowed Peterborough United to steal second spot with a 4-2 victory against Leyton Orient.
Goalkeeper Harry Seaden and forward Matt Rush were both missing for Southend as they linked up with Bostik North Division club Great Wakering Rovers on work experience loan deals. Rush would go on to set up the winning goal for the Burroughs Park outfit in their 2-1 win at home to Romford in the afternoon.
With that duo out of contention, and the continued absence of first-year scholar Charlie Kelman with the first-team squad having signed his first professional contract with the club in midweek, gave opportunities to gloveman Callum Taylor, wide player Ahmet Biler and striker Issa Mpenga.
Despite a cagey opening quarter of the match, Blues enjoyed a couple of good opportunities. Sam Brogan’s lofted pass from midfield released Mpenga in the eighth minute, but the first-year steered his finish across the face of goal.
Freddy Eastwood, who has netted the opening goal against Cambridge United seven days previously, almost reprised his fine strike by drifting in from the left-hand side again, but this time he saw his path blocked by two Northampton defenders and his shot was blocked. O’Shane Stewart’s half-volleyed attempt from just outside the penalty area was saved by Cobblers custodian Lewi Patching.
Southend’s defensive work had been a feature of the win against the U’s in the Youth Alliance Cup, and early on their organisation was good as Ben Dabbs got across to head Matthew Sunn’s cross away from danger and then skipper Sam Knock slid in to cut out Caleb Chukwmeka’s left-wing centre.
However, a mis-timed challenge in the 25th minute gave the visitors the opportunity to take the lead from the penalty spot. Captain Sunn stepped up to take the twelve-yarder but Taylor guessed correctly to superbly push the shot out.
Seven minutes later Town left-back Jacob Ballinger rattled the Blues crossbar with a searing 25-yard shot before Taylor again made a superb save, reaching up to tip a curling effort over the crossbar. In first half stoppage time Northampton almost took the lead with a free-kick that squirmed through Taylor’s grasp, but he recovered quickly to scoop up the ball on the goal-line.
The Cobblers started the second period in a similar vein, and Taylor tipped a skidding Lewis Gilbert effort around the left-hand post in the 50th minute. From the resulting corner Blues failed to clear their lines and Michael Harding fired the ball into the roof of the net to put Northampton 1-0 up.
Terrell Egbri warmed the gloves of Patching with a long-range drive shortly afterwards, but Northampton continued to enjoy the better chances and Harding was denied a second goal when Taylor narrowed the angle to made an impressive near-post block in the 66th minute.
A left-wing centre was then driven dangerously across the six-yard box as the Southend goal lived a charmed life, and youth team coach Dave Huzzey responded to the pressure by introducing two schoolboys in the form of Oli Coker and Adetayo Adeooja. The latter, who is still eligible to play for the U15s, was making his U18s debut, and the changes appeared to work.
With five minutes remaining Stewart’s fierce attempt was parried by Patching, giving Eastwood an opportunity to sweep home the rebound. Unfortunately the attacker couldn’t add to his 13-goal tally this season as the goalkeeper got up quickly to turn his side-footed follow-up around the left-hand upright.
With seconds remaining of normal time Stewart drilled a 25-yard free-kick into the defensive wall, with Egbri’s follow-up flying wide, and deep into stoppage time Mpenga almost snatched a point when he nodded the ball out of Patching’s hands but failed to immediately identify where the ball was, allowing a defender time to get around him and block his shot.
The goalless nature of the defeat meant that it was the first time this season that Blues had drawn a blank in a league fixture. They will now focus their attention on the Youth Alliance Cup Southern Section Final against Exeter City on February 2nd and the ensuing Merit League One campaign.
Southend United U18s: Callum Taylor, Ben Dabbs, Ide Osimeh, Sam Brogan (Adetayo Adeooja, 79), Sam Knock, Miles Mitchell-Nelson, Terrell Egbri, O’Shane Stewart, Issa Mpenga, Freddy Eastwood, Ahmet Biler (Oli Coker, 64). Substitute not used: Jamie Grossart, Cameron Brown, Jimmy Wallace.