Youth team coach Danny Heath felt his team deserved more following a 2-0 defeat to Northampton Town at Moulton Agricultural College on Saturday.
"It was disappointing because I felt the boys’ overall performance deserved something from the game,” claimed Heath. "I thought it was quite an evenly-matched game. Maybe, in the second half, we worked the ball into good areas and had the better of the chances, so it was disappointing in terms of the result. The boys have got to keep their chins up, roll their sleeves up and we will go again.”
The two teams could not be separated until midway through the second half, when a Haydn Price penalty put the Cobblers ahead: “Even their coaching staff said it was never a penalty and they were further up the pitch in line with our box. Their manager said if anything it was a free-kick to us because their striker fouled Reiss Chandler, so that’s disappointing, but that’s football,” Heath said.
Caleb Chukwuemeka’s injury-time strike put an unfair gloss on the scoreline, and Heath was left to rue some missed opportunities: "If you look at it 2-0 looks like a comfortable game for them but, in terms of our game-plan, we’ve watched their games recently and we knew that, with their style of play, they were going to put balls into the box and go direct, and I felt in general the boys stood up to that.”
Southend made two changes to the starting line-up that had defeated Stevenage in their previous fixture. Issa Mpenga was not available, so schoolboy Adetayo Adeooja made his first start for the youth team, whilst Damari Anyadike was preferred to Cameron Brown in midfield.
The hosts had the better of the early exchanges, and a right-footed strike in the fifth minute was deflected wide before a side-footed effort was also diverted off-target following a good interchange between the forwards a couple of minutes later.
The first signs that Southend might pose an attacking threat arrived in the eleventh minute when Bobby Unwin swept the ball down the left flank and Adeooja won a free-kick besides the touchline. Oli Coker’s delivery was met by Jimmy Wallace, but he could only direct a header into the goalkeeper’s gloves.
Blues were working hard defensively, and their shape stifled their opponents. Contrastingly, the teenage Shrimpers were less of an attacking proposition, but in the 19th minute Tommy Davis spotted Unwin’s run and found the winger with a raking pass. His centre was directed towards Adeooja, but he was crowded out by the Northampton defence.
It was not until the 25th minute that Jamie Grossart was called upon to make his first save of the match, easily gathering a shot from the edge of the penalty area, but the first-year custodian was helpless sixty seconds later when a shot crashed against the underside of the crossbar and, fortunately for the visitors, bounced back out.
The hosts were enjoying their best spell of the game, and a near-post header was glanced over by a centre-half from six yards out shortly afterwards. Northampton’s intent left them susceptible to the counter-attack, and Anyadike almost made them pay with a slaloming solo run on the half-hour, only to fire his shot into the side-netting.
The first half ended with a Northampton player nodding over from a corner, but Blues were right in the game, and they were bolstered by the introduction of Jon Benton at the interval. The midfielder stepped up his return from injury by completing 45 minutes.
Blues almost made the perfect start when Coker linked up with Unwin for a short corner routine but, when the midfielder’s cross was spilled by the goalkeeper, there was no-one on hand to tap into the net. Benton also curled over from 25 yards out, but there was a warning sign just before the hour when a Northampton attacker flashed a shot across the face of goal.
Reiss Chandler then did well to read a dangerous cross and cut it out before it could reach its intended target, but he was involved as the Cobblers took the lead in the 66th minute. The right-back fought for the ball with a forward and, after a succession of tackles, the referee pointed to the penalty spot. Price stepped up to slam home the spot-kick via the inside of the left-hand upright.
"These decisions go against you, and I felt that maybe, after that had gone against us, the boys could’ve reacted better by keeping their heads up and rolling their sleeves up. The ref has given his decision and they’ve scored, but we still had 20 minutes to go in the game and we had to keep going and stick at the plan,” reported Heath.
Unwin smashed over from 25 yards out following a free-kick from Davis, and Wallace attempted to test the goalkeeper from fully 40 yards out in the 72nd minute, whilst Freddy Eastwood teed up Benton for a measured effort from the edge of the penalty area that the goalkeeper grasped with ease.
Probably the best chance arrived in the 81st minute when Adeooja did well to beat the Cobblers left-back and enter the penalty area. Play appeared to be opening up in front of him, but he tried to square the ball to Eastwood and Northampton cleared.
"We got into some good areas, and maybe we needed a little bit more quality on the final ball just to create the chance for somebody to score,” said Heath. “We also got into some good areas between 12 and 18 yards out, and you’ve got to be at least working the goalkeeper from there. Unfortunately, we didn’t do that and the shot either wasn’t hard enough or it was straight at the goalkeeper.”
More chances came and went during the final ten minutes of the match as Adeooja’s effort from an Unwin cross was deflected out for a corner and skipper Sam Brogan smashed wildly over from distance. Adeooja almost slashed wide from a Wallace pass, but Northampton would have the final say in stoppage time.
Chukwuemeka used his strength to power his way into the penalty area, and he then steered a superb shot into the top left-hand corner of the net. Grossart got a hand to the ball, but he was unable to keep it out. Chukwuemeka also fired narrowly over and, although Adeooja was denied by a scrambling save at the opposite end, the damage had been done.
"Physically they were probably all-round bigger than us, but we made things hard for them to score. From that point of view, if you look back to the first couple of games of the season against Luton Town and Peterborough United, who also play that sort of way, the boys have showed that they have developed and improved in terms of how to defend against that style of play,” concluded Heath.
Southend United U18s: Jamie Grossart, Reiss Chandler, Ahmet Biler, Sam Brogan, Tommy Davis, Jimmy Wallace, Damari Anyadike (Jon Benton, 46), Oli Coker (Cameron Brown, 78), Adetayo Adeooja, Freddy Eastwood, Bobby Unwin. Substitutes not used: Callum Taylor, Ergis Shala.