Blues had beaten Stevenage and Milton Keynes Dons at Boots & Laces in their previous two EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference outings, with a 2-0 friendly win against Category Two Academy Colchester United providing the filling in the proverbial sandwich. 

However, the short trip to Surrey ended in a first defeat since the FA Youth Cup reverse to Ipswich Town and only the second league loss of the current campaign. “We didn’t really perform, and that’s probably the first time that’s occurred this season,” said youth team coach Danny Heath. 

“That’s something that happens in football, so it’s now all about how we react to it and putting it right, starting when we return to training on Monday morning. It’s something we must put right, but there are no excuses.” 

“We did everything that we normally do during the week leading up to the game. We knew AFC Wimbledon would be a threat with their physicality, and we were ready for that,” he added. 

Blues fell behind in the 35th minute when they were hit on the counter-attack by the hosts. The Dons broke down the left-hand side and a diagonal cross-field pass led to a clean strike that left Jamie Grossart no chance as it thudded into the net via the underside of the crossbar. 

The result was sealed a quarter-of-an-hour from time when Wimbledon successfully converted a penalty. “We changed our shape at 1-0, and then we tried it again after it went 2-0 in a bid to get something from the game,” Heath revealed. 

“After it went 2-0 we lined up in a 4-2-4 formation and in those last 15 minutes the boys gave it their best shot, but that should’ve happened from the start.” 

Blues can still climb to the summit of the league table if they win their two matches in hand over leaders Luton Town, and Heath believes the squad’s performances this term mean they are identified as a real challenge by their opponents. 

“I was speaking to the Wimbledon coaches after the game, and they told me they’d watched three or four of our games in the lead-up to prepare for the fixture. They’d also spoken to other clubs, and they’d told them we were the best team they’d played,” Heath claimed. 

“The boys have to understand that they have to up their game because other teams will make it hard for us. AFC Wimbledon are a good footballing side, but they can also mix it up with their physicality.” 

“They knew they would have to be at their best to beat us and not make it a game of football, even though they have the ability to do that. We now have to stand up to those battles, refocus and rebuild ahead of our next game.” 

Heath finished by picking out three players who deserved praise from the game: “Louie Arrowsmith was a real positive when he came on for the last 25 minutes,” he said. “He hadn’t trained until Friday due to an allergic reaction, but he came on and was our best player when he did.” 

“I thought Luke Reeve, playing as a central defender against a strong second-year centre-forward, had a very good game. He dealt with him really well, not just when he had the ball but with the positions he took up.” 

“Finally, we gave schoolboy Louie Rodmell a debut as a substitute for the final 20 minutes. He came on and put himself about physically when he didn’t have the ball and showed some nice touches and good passes. Promoting players up from the U16s is what we’re all about,” Heath concluded. 

Blues do not have a league match arranged next Saturday, returning to action on 12th December at Boots & Laces against Cambridge United. 

Southend United U18s: Jamie Grossart, Tommy Davis, Bobby Unwin (Louie Rodmell, 70), Callum Burkey (Louie Arrowsmith, 65), Luke Reeve, Jimmy Wallace, Damaray Anyadike, Jaden Crowhurst (Kenny Coker, 45), Tayo Adedoja, Oli Coker, Cameron Brown.