Left-back Ahmet Biler felt Southend United U18s were unlucky not to get something out of their recent EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference fixture at home to AFC Wimbledon.
Blues were beaten 3-0 by the Dons as Bobby Unwin scored an own goal during the first half and Elliott Bolton and Ayoub Assal netted late on to put a gloss on the scoreline for the visitors. Biler was one of the more experienced players, with only second-year scholar Callum Taylor of a similar age in the starting line-up.
“It was a difficult game,” Biler admitted. “We knew it was going to be difficult, but we worked hard and we were committed. We were determined to fight, so it was an unlucky result and we were unfortunate to concede two late goals. We’ll bounce back and go again next week.”
“It was good to lead the boys and try to help them play good football. It was unlucky that we couldn’t get the result, but they are still young and they are still learning, and they’re going to get to where they need to be,” he added.
It was an interesting occasion for Biler as he came up against his twin brother, Huseyin. The pair regularly came into contact with each other as Ahmet lined-up at left-back and Huseyin at right-back for Wimbledon. After Blues won the away fixture in south London, Ahmet feels it’s honours even in the personal duel.
“It was a good battle,” he claimed. “There is always healthy competition between us two. I don’t think he’ll mention it too much because in the first game we beat them so we’re quite equal and he can’t talk much!”
“The League Cup tie [Blues host Wimbledon again on 7th December in the area quarter-finals of the EFL Youth Alliance Cup] will be a big game now because we are equal. We’ve got to go out there, be determined, be committed and fight for the win.”
Blues named six schoolboys in the matchday squad for the fixture, with first-year scholar Jimmy Wallace captaining the team for the first time. Jaden Crowhurst was given his first start whilst Kwabena Baffour-Akoto Yeboah was named on the substitutes’ bench for the inaugural time.
By contrast, Wimbledon named three players who featured in the matchday squad for the EFL Trophy tie at Roots Hall earlier this month. One of those, Assal, looked primed to score in the seventh minute before Wallace executed a superb challenge. Three minutes later Biler read a left-wing cross to cut the ball out ahead of Zachary Robinson.
The visitors did take the lead after 14 minutes in fortuitous circumstances. Biler’s corner was cleared quickly and the Dons swept upfield as goalkeeper Matthew Cox released Robinson. He sprinted into Blues territory and then switched play to Issac Olaniyan on the left-hand side. His cross was directed into the penalty area, where Unwin met the ball with a diving header that sent it into his own goal.
Blues responded with Tommy Lambourne volleying over from Biler’s left-wing free-kick, and another Biler delivery midway through the opening period was nodded into Cox’s gloves by the front-man. Seconds later Demaray Anyadike arrowed another effort at the custodian from the edge of the penalty area.
Despite that flurry of opportunities, Blues spent much of the opening period on the back foot. Olakayde Osu fired narrowly over following another Robinson run, and the attacker went close seconds later when he slid a shot wide when one-on-one with Taylor.
The first half ended with Unwin curling a free-kick around the wall, although Cox was able to effect a comfortable save, and Blues started the second period with Lambourne setting the ball back to Cameron Brown, who directed off-target with his left foot.
However, Wimbledon continued to pose a threat and Robinson drew a parried save from Taylor before Ergis Shala timed a tackle to perfection to prevent Assal from converting the follow-up on 56 minutes. Osu fired wide on the turn shortly afterward, whilst Blues continued their good defensive work soon after the hour mark when Ethan Sutcliffe and Dylan Adjei-Hursey were denied from close-range.
Wallace blocked an Assal attempt from Elliott Bolton’s lay-off, but Blues attempted to change the course of the game with the introduction of Kenny Coker in the 69th minute. Immediately Southend created an opportunity as Unwin burst between two defenders before drilling a shot at Cox, stationed beside his near post, from an acute angle.
Taylor saved from Olaniyan at the other end, but Coker’s influence was almost immediate as he stole the ball from Huseyin Biler on the Blues left. He cut it back to Lambourne on the edge of the penalty area, but the forward failed to bring the ball under his control and the chance passed.
Instead, Wimbledon stretched their advantage with five minutes to go as they netted following a short corner routine. Adjei-Hursey laid the ball off to Biler and his right-wing cross was nodded into the top left-hand corner by Bolton.
The final goal arrived deep into stoppage time when Wimbledon won the ball on the left-hand side. Assal was released down the inside-left channel and he slotted the ball beyond Taylor into the bottom right-hand corner. Biler would like to see the side improve as they embark on the final four matches of the South East Conference campaign.
“It’s not been a great start, but we’ve still got a long way to go,” he said. “We’ve still got a cup game coming up which gives us a chance of some silverware, but we’ve got to keep going and pushing. We’ve got to keep training hard every day to get to where we want to be.”
“Everyone needs to come in and be on it every day in training and keep working. We need to listen and focus and take it out into the games. That’s where we’ll see when character comes out,” he concluded.
Southend United U18s: Callum Taylor, Tommy Davis, Ahmet Biler, Jaden Crowhurst, Jimmy Wallace, Ergis Shala, Demaray Anyadike (Kenny Coker, 69), Cameron Brown, Adetayo Adedoja, Tommy Lambourne, Bobby Unwin. Substitutes not used: Jamie Grossart, Louie Arrowsmith, Luke Reeve, Kwabena Baffour-Akoto Yeboah.
Cautioned: Crowhurst (86, foul tackle).