Southend United U18s suffered a First Round exit in The FA Youth Cup at the hands of Ipswich Town following a 4-1 reverse at Portman Road.
Blues slipped two goals behind in the first eleven minutes as Harley Curtis and Liam Gibbs netted for the hosts but, after Alfie Cutbush had extended that advantage in the 41st minute, Ergis Shala’s header seconds before half-time gave the visitors some hope.
Danny Heath’s side were much-improved in the second half, with Tayo Adedoja hitting the crossbar during a sustained spell of pressure, but Cutbush’s second goal of the game in the closing stages finally extinguished thoughts of a comeback.
“I was disappointed with the first half, with and without the ball, and I felt Ipswich didn’t have to work for the goals they scored,” Heath said after the match. “We didn’t show enough intensity, press them enough or track the runners, so that was disappointing.”
“Going forwards we didn’t create many clear-cut chances, but fair play to the boys because they got the ball into a good area and attacked the ball to get a goal back just before half-time.”
“The next goal was going to be important coming out in the second half, and I thought the boys were much better. They moved and passed the ball better, but I was disappointed with the fourth goal towards the end because again I didn’t think they had to work for it,” he added.
Heath made one enforced change to the team that had been defeated in stoppage time by Northampton Town at the weekend as Oli Coker began his three-match suspension for a red card. Namesake Kenny returned to the side in his place.
Blues made a good start to the game and, when Tayo Adedoja was brought down in the third minute, Bobby Unwin swung the free-kick over the crossbar. It was the second foul on Adedoja in the opening stages as a previous run was brought back for a pull when he was making progress down the right-hand side.
However, Ipswich - who operate as a Category Two Academy - took the lead in the fifth minute with their first real attack of the match. Curtis was positioned to receive the ball on the half-turn and he spun round to arrow his shot into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
Southend sought to respond, with Callum Burkey warming Antoni Bort’s gloves in the Ipswich goal with a stinging left-footed strike from 25 yards out. Unfortunately Ipswich doubled their advantage in the eleventh minute with a superb move, Gibbs exchanging passes with Cutbush before sliding his shot beneath Jamie Grossart.
The hosts could have added further goals as they began to move the ball around stylishly; Zanda Siziba’s left-sided run was ended by Burkey’s challenge in the penalty area and Grossart then grabbed hold of Tawanda Chirewa’s effort at his near post.
In the 20th minute full-back Louie Arrowsmith made an excellent tackle to dispossess goalscorer Curtis in the penalty area, and Siziba could have netted with a header at the far post, but he failed to get the required contact to a hanging right-wing cross.
Southend’s best opportunities were restricted to set-pieces and, when Unwin was tripped 25 yards from goal just before the half-hour mark, Cameron Brown had a chance to size up the goal. Having scored from a similar distance against Leyton Orient earlier in the season, this time the midfielder curled the ball into the empty Sir Alf Ramsey Stand.
Unwin also fired over from the ‘D’ after Jimmy Wallace had laid the ball into his path following a Brown corner in the 38th minute, but in-between Ipswich had gone close through Jesse Nwabueze, who fizzed an effort over, and Chirewa, whose low effort was turned into the side-netting by Grossart.
The hosts made their superiority count in the 41st minute when Cutbush made it 3-0. Ben Wyss worked hard on the right-hand side to ride a couple of challenges before finally offloading to the midfielder, who turned home from close-range.
Southend’s heads did not go down and, when Adedoja’s run earned a corner in the final minute of the first half, that gave Arrowsmith a chance to deliver a telling inswinging delivery. The Ipswich defence did not deal with the cross and Shala powered his header inside the right-hand post to reduce the arrears.
Grossart palmed an early effort over in the second half, but Blues threw everything at the home side after the interval. Adedoja was being tugged back as he attacked in the 48th minute, but the referee played a good advantage and Brown flashed his shot across the face of goal.
The move did not break down and Unwin recycled the ball with Damaray Anyadike failing to make a telling connection from six yards out. Six minutes later Shala’s presence from a corner again caused problems in the Ipswich defence, but a glancing header was scuffed by Tommy Davis at the back post.
The game was opening up, and Chirewa smashed over for Town before Southend hit the crossbar through Adedoja. Having moved the ball around nicely, the forward’s shot was eventually sent crashing against the woodwork from 25 yards out.
Blues were growing with confidence, knowing that the next goal would be crucial, and they continued to pass the ball around their opponents on the excellent Portman Road surface. Anyadike’s finishing was all that was missing at the end of twin moves shortly after the hour mark, with the winger curling wide and firing over from good positions.
However, after that period had passed, Ipswich almost sealed their victory through Siziba, who lifted a shot over Grossart and against the crossbar in the 74th minute. Twelve minutes later, Cutbush seized on a mistake in the Blues back-line and netted from close-range to confirm Ipswich’s progress.
Southend had fallen at the first hurdle in the competition, and Heath challenged the squad to make amends when they return to league action: “I felt we had them on the back foot for the first 20-25 minutes of the second half, but we’ve got to make that pressure count. We have to start showing that we are learning,” he declared.
Southend United U18s: Jamie Grossart, Tommy Davis, Louie Arrowsmith, Callum Burkey (Jaden Crowhurst, 80), Ergis Shala, Jimmy Wallace, Damaray Anyadike, Cameron Brown, Kenny Coker, Tayo Adedoja, Bobby Unwin.
Goal: Shala (45)
Cautioned: Wallace (90+2, handball).