Southend United U18s began their EFL Youth Alliance Merit League One campaign with a narrow 2-1 defeat to AFC Wimbledon on Saturday.
Blues led when Demaray Anyadike prodded in from close range just before half-time, but Jack Madelin netted an 88th-minute free-kick and Isaac Ogundere snatched the three points for the visitors by tapping home in stoppage time.
Danny Heath made four changes to the team that had taken the field in the last competitive match against Luton Town. Callum Taylor’s first-team call-up meant a start for Jamie Grossart whilst schoolboys Luke Reeve and Adetayo Adedoja came into the side in place of Ergis Shala and the injured Tommy Lambourne. Anyadike replaced Freddy Eastwood in the eleven.
Southend could have made the perfect start when Bobby Unwin seized on a misplaced pass inside the opening sixty seconds. The winger allowed the ball to travel across his body, and that gave Dons goalkeeper Matt Cox enough time to effect a challenge on the edge of the six-yard box. The ball ran loose to Oli Coker, whose cheeky back-heel dribbled wide of the right-hand post.
Four minutes later the hosts again almost edged ahead when another piece of sloppy play by a Wimbledon defender allowed Anyadike to bear down on goal. The first-year scholar struck ferociously towards goal, but Cox was again equal to the attempt and parried the ball to safety.
Despite a strong cross-wind meaning that play was fragmented, Southend continued to create chances and Anyadike’s right-wing cross picked out Adedoja, who saw an effort charged down by a defender. On the half-hour mark Cox again thwarted Unwin, this time after the wide-man had been released by skipper Sam Brogan.
Wimbledon were being prevented from gaining a sight of Grossart’s goal, with full-back Reiss Chandler stepping in twice in quick succession, first to slow down an attack and then to cut out a left-wing centre. Shortly afterwards Reeve, on his full debut for the U18s, got across to clear a right-wing cross.
Grossart did well to gather a right-wing free-kick, and another effort flashed across the face of goal for the visitors, but Blues were able to establish a foothold in the fixture as the first half neared its conclusion.
Jimmy Wallace could’ve nodded Southend in front when he met Ahmet Biler’s free-kick, but Cox was able to make an easy save. However, with 44 minutes played, Southend did take the lead. Coker spread the ball wide to Unwin, and his driven centre was converted from close range by Anyadike.
Things could have improved still further in first-half stoppage time when Adedoja found himself in space in the penalty area, but a combination of Cox and a defender managed to scramble the ball to safety. Blues took a narrow advantage into the interval, and they braced themselves for more defensive work during the second half.
It was Biler who had the first sight of goal ten minutes into the second period after Brogan and Unwin had combined to search out his run on the left-hand-hand apex of the penalty area. The left-back unfortunately sent his strike careering high and wide of the target.
Cox was also out smartly to beat Adedoja to a quickly-taken free-kick, but Wimbledon struck the woodwork in the 65th minute when a long ball forwards was controlled by an attacker and smashed against the outside of the right-hand post.
The match began to take on an end-to-end nature, with Sam Brogan curling wide and Adedoja narrowly failing to pick out Unwin with a square pass at one end and a combination of Wallace, Biler and Brown doing well to contain the Dons in the opposite penalty area with a quarter-of-an-hour remaining.
Blues tried to soak up as much time as they could, but the game was beginning to get edgy and both Wallace and Reeve failed to get distance on headed clearances in the 79th minute before Brown thumped the ball to safety.
Grossart also made a good save at the feet of a forward, and Southend had a superb chance to take full advantage in the 82nd minute when Unwin galloped clear of the Wimbledon defence. The winger sent a skidding strike towards the bottom right-hand corner of the net, but Cox stuck out a left glove to tip the shot out for a corner.
Six minutes later, the visitors were level. Brogan conceded a free-kick 25 yards from goal, and Madelin stood over the set-piece. He curled the dead ball around the outside of Grossart’s defensive wall and into the bottom right-hand corner.
Wimbledon were buoyed by the goal and set about grabbing a winner, which duly arrived in the first minute of additional time. The ball was swept upfield quickly and Ogundere was able to divert the ball past Grossart and seal a 2-1 victory. Blues next travel to Peterborough United this weekend.
Southend United U18s: Jamie Grossart, Reiss Chandler, Ahmet Biler, Sam Brogan, Jimmy Wallace, Luke Reeve, Demaray Anyadike, Cameron Brown, Adetayo Adedoja, Oli Coker, Bobby Unwin. Substitutes not used: George Murray-Jones, Louie Arrowsmith, Jaden Crowhurst, Freddy Eastwood, Louie Rodmell.
Goal: Anyadike (44).