Southend United U18s suffered their first reverse of the EFL Youth Alliance Merit League One season as they were defeated 4-1 by Luton Town at The Brache...
Blues had run out 7-3 winners at Ely Way during the course of the EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference season, but they were unable to replicate that achievement on a blustery morning in a match switched to the home of Crawley Green FC at the last minute.
Schoolboy Bobby Unwin was on target for the second away match in succession, but the time he found the net with a cool finish the teenage Shrimpers were 3-0 down and, despite Ide Osimeh hitting the post in an attempt to narrow the deficit still further, a late penalty from Connor Tomlinson ensured the Hatters collected all three points.
Unwin replaced trialist Johnny Black in the starting line-up as one of three changes for Dave Huzzey’s side. Callum Taylor, who had been sent off just minutes after appearing as a substitute on his youth team debut in that 7-3 victory, replaced Harry Seaden in goal whilst O’Shane Stewart was fit to return in place of OIi Coker.
The hosts made the better start to the encounter, and Taylor was called upon to make his first save of the match in the seventh minute as he tumbled away to his left to turn a shot away from goal. Sixty seconds later Stewart was dispossessed in midfield, leading to a left-footed strike being dragged wide of the left-hand upright.
However, Southend began to hit their stride and their ball retention was good. That allowed Freddy Eastwood to deliver the first shot at goal for the visitors in the 13th minute, forcing the Town goalkeeper into a sprawling stop. Two minutes later Osimeh had the ball in the back of the net after Issa Mpenga had acrobatically turned Eastwood’s corner into his path, but the assistant referee’s flag was raised for offside.
Blues were controlling the tempo of the match, and they looked the more threatening side, even if the final delivery was eluding any attackers. Eastwood had a right-wing centre cut out at the near post on the half-hour mark and Stewart’s teasing right-sided delivery sailed agonisingly across the six-yard box shortly afterwards.
In the 34th minute Osimeh drove forwards from his left-back berth before being tackled in the penalty area, with Terrell Egbri picking up the loose ball and seeing his strike deflected wide. Despite that, two minutes later Luton caused a moment of anxiety in the Southend penalty area when a free-kick was curled against the top of the crossbar from 25 yards out, even if Taylor appeared to have the swerving strike covered.
The Northern Ireland youth international was then called into action just seconds later as Tomlinson was found in space 15 yards from goal. Taylor stood tall to beat the shot to safety, but he couldn’t prevent Luton from taking the lead two minutes before the break when Tomlinson spotted the run of Toby Byron to his left and his angled his body to curl the ball into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
Blues may have fallen behind, but they had acquitted themselves well in the opening period and they had almost managed an immediate response from Egbri, who flew down the right wing before drilling his shot at the Town custodian.
Nonetheless, Huzzey’s side would still have believed that there was a route back into the match, even if Taylor had to make an impressive stop of the edge of his own penalty area to deny Tomlinson. The forward sprung the offside trap to get in behind the Blues back-line, but Taylor advanced to close down the angle and then blocked the ball to keep the lead at just one goal.
However, two minutes later Tomlinson did have his goal, and there was nothing Taylor could do to prevent it. A left-wing pass was slipped in behind the defence and the striker swept the ball clinically beyond the Southend gloveman to double the home team’s advantage.
The second goal seemed to ignite the Shrimpers, and O’Shane Stewart saw a strong shot parried out before Unwin headed a Ben Dabbs cross goalwards. The goalkeeper gathered that above his head before Egbri forced a defender to clear off the line from an Unwin centre just before the hour mark.
Despite that flurry of opportunities, Luton almost scored a third on the hour mark when first Sam Knock deflected the ball out for a corner and then Taylor made a smart stop. On 65 minutes it was 3-0 as Callum Nicholson netted with an outstanding controlled finish after arriving at the far post to meet a right-wing cross and dispatch the ball into the top left-hand corner of the goal.
Osimeh curled a free-kick into the side-netting before Huzzey threw on Reiss Chandler, Ben Vaivada and Coker from the substitutes’ bench. The triple change reaped immediate rewards as schoolboy Coker linked up with his U16s team-mate Unwin with a terrific through-ball and the youngster showed real composure to steady himself before stroking into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
Within seconds Coker had almost scored himself, narrowly failing to connect with Eastwood’s left-wing centre before Eastwood himself fired over from Osimeh’s pass. Stewart then threaded a pass into Eastwood’s path, only for a defender to execute a well-timed challenge in the 79th minute.
In the 86th minute Unwin’s cross nearly picked out Vaivada or Stewart, both of whom were rushing into the penalty area in an attempt to convert and still there was time remaining when Osimeh’s superb strike rebounded off the inside of the right-hand post. Eastwood looked set to convert the follow-up, but he could only pick out the side-netting.
Instead Luton put the seal on their success with three minutes remaining after Chandler was adjudged to have fouled an attacker. Tomlinson stepped up to fire home the penalty, with Taylor guessing correctly but unable to palm away a well-struck spot-kick.
Southend United U18s: Callum Taylor, Ben Dabbs (Reiss Chandler, 68), Ide Osimeh, Sam Brogan (Oli Coker, 68), Sam Knock, Miles Mitchell-Nelson, Terrell Egbri, O’Shane Stewart, Issa Mpenga (Benas Vaivada, 68), Freddy Eastwood, Bobby Unwin.
Substitute not used: Harry Seaden.
Goal: Unwin (69).
Cautioned: Vaivada (85, foul tackle).