Southend United U18s conceded two late goals to relinquish their spot at the top of the EFL Youth Alliance Merit League One table with a 2-2 draw at Yeovil Town on Saturday...
Blues had been cruising towards a place at the summit alongside Oxford United when Sam Knock converted a 28th-minute penalty and O’Shane Stewart doubled the advantage on the hour mark with his seventh goal of the season. However, Devon Arnold pulled one back from the penalty spot with seven minutes to play before netting a dramatic stoppage-time leveller.
Youth team coach Dave Huzzey was forced into one change to the team that had held on for a 2-1 victory over Stevenage in their previous fixture as Reiss Chandler replaced Ben Dabbs at right-back. Dabbs is out after sustaining a foot injury in a VAR trial match in midweek, but Miles Mitchell-Nelson passed a fitness test after experiencing a tight hamstring.
The visitors to the top pitch at Yeovil’s Huish Park complex had the benefit of playing with the slope in the first half and Bobby Unwin nodded wide from Terrell Egbri’s right-wing cross in the second minute, Sixty seconds later full-back Ide Osimeh centred for Matt Rush at the near post, but he failed to flick the ball past the Yeovil goalkeeper.
Osimeh strode forwards again in the fifth minute but, having been encouraged to shoot, he delayed his effort until he entered the penalty area and eventually fired over. There was a moment of danger when Harry Seaden had to race off his line to clear from the toecaps of a Glovers attacker shortly afterwards, and the goalkeeper then made a smart stop in the ninth minute to keep the scoreline goalless.
However, it was the Shrimpers that remained largely on the front foot, with Sam Brogan almost finding Rush with a through-ball that the Town custodian anticipated well. Midfielder Brogan then released Freddy Eastwood on the left-hand side of the penalty area, but his fellow first-year scholar could only locate the gloves of the goalkeeper in the 12th minute.
Mitchell-Nelson did well to get across and challenge Neville Nzembela after a quarter-of-an-hour and prevent him from getting a sight at goal, but it came at a personal cost as he was forced to limp off. Osimeh moved into an unfamiliar central defensive role with Ahmet Biler coming on.
The change failed to halt Southend’s momentum, and Rush saw his header from a Stewart cross tipped over in the 20th minute before they took the lead eight minutes later. Rush was brought down by the goalkeeper as he tried to take the ball around him in the six-yard box and Knock stepped up to send the shotstopper the wrong way and net for the second time in the last three U18s matches.
The skipper had also netted the winner for the U23s in midweek, but the goal appeared to relax Blues a little too much, and Seaden had to make an instinctive save to maintain the lead on the half-hour mark. The gloveman also made an important clearance six minutes later before a further Southend onslaught at the end of the half.
In the 36th minute Rush was unfortunate to see his shot bounce back off the woodwork after he had stolen possession on the left-hand edge of the penalty area. He darted inside to try and create a better angle, but he fired against the left-hand upright with the goalkeeper beaten.
Three minutes later Chandler combined with Egbri to cross for Eastwood, whose acrobatic overhead bicycle kick flew inches over and, on the stroke of half-time, Unwin twice went close. First his powerful downward header was brilliantly palmed around the post by the goalkeeper, who seconds later again thwarted the winger with a fine save as he tried to curl the ball into the bottom left-hand corner.
There was some late anxiety for Blues as Seaden and Knock were both called upon to repel goal-bound attempts in stoppage time at the end of the opening period, and their defences were almost breached in the opening minute of a second half when a right-wing cross was volleyed over.
The hosts kept the pressure on and Seaden had to stand tall to save at his near post in the 51st minute before Yeovil had a goal ruled out for offside as the follow-up from a full-length Seaden stop was sent into the net. In-between Osimeh’s half-volleyed attempt from an Eastwood corner was hooked off the line and Rush sent a dipping shot into the gloves of the Town goalkeeper from 15 yards out.
Southend were ramping up the pressure once again in response to the scare at the opposite end, and Unwin saw another effort turned away by the Yeovil custodian before Rush failed to prod home the follow-up. In the 58th minute the luckless Rush saw a close-range header saved following Chandler’s cross as Blues were thwarted once again.
They were finally rewarded for their persistence on the hour mark as Stewart’s purposeful run culminated in a second goal. The midfielder rode a number of tackles on the right-hand side before cutting back and sending the ball against the legs of the goalkeeper. It rebounded back to the former Wandsworth Town youngster, who rifled home the loose ball to double the advantage.
The challenge then concerned game-management. Yeovil were pushing and probing for a route back into the game whilst Blues tried to shut them out. An effort was dragged wide by the Glovers in the 70th minute, but there was a chance for Southend to enhance their lead with a quarter-of-an-hour remaining when Brogan guided a 25-yard shot marginally over.
Osimeh also curled a free-kick into the goalkeeper’s gloves, but Blues were dealt a blow seven minutes from time when substitute Benas Vaivada mis-timed a challenge on the edge of the penalty area and the referee pointed to the spot. Seaden guessed the correct way, but Arnold’s twelve-yarder squirmed underneath his body and into the bottom right-hand corner.
Seaden was cautioned for his reaction to the goal, but Yeovil were dealt a blow when the assistant referee brought the referee’s attention to an offence by the centre-back, who was shown a second yellow card. Oli Coker immediately headed a right-wing cross into the goalkeeper’s gloves, but the game had become nervy, and that anxiety was enhanced when the referee indicated there would be six additional minutes.
Nonetheless, it appeared that Blues would hold out until a long ball forwards in the third minute of stoppage time dissected the back four. Arnold latched onto the pass and superbly steered his finish into the bottom right-hand corner to equalise. There was still a late chance for Vaivada to snatch victory, but his low strike was held at the second attempt and the two teams had to settle for a point apiece.
Southend United U18s: Harry Seaden, Reiss Chandler, Ide Osimeh, Sam Brogan, Sam Knock, Miles Mitchell-Nelson (Ahmet Biler, 19), Terrell Egbri, O’Shane Stewart (Benas Vaivada, 72), Matt Rush (Issa Mpenga, 88), Freddy Eastwood (Oli Coker, 78), Bobby Unwin. Substitute not used: Callum Taylor.
Goals: Knock (28, pen), Stewart (60).
Cautioned: Osimeh (70, foul tackle), Seaden (83, adopting an aggressive attitude).