Youth team coach Danny Heath praised the application and attitude of his squad despite Southend United U18s suffering their first defeat of the season at Peterborough United on Tuesday afternoon.
Shaun Keane scored the only goal of the game for Posh around ten minutes from the end as Blues bowed out of the EFL Youth Alliance Cup at the First Round stage at the Mick George Training Ground in Orton Longueville. Heath believes his team will learn a number of lessons from the encounter.
“The squad will have learnt a lot about how to win a game, but also how not to lose a game,” he said. “The aim for the boys is to reach the first team, and at that level the result is what it’s all about because it’s their jobs and their livelihoods.”
“So, although the performance was really good, it was disappointing not to get the win to go with it. That is the ideal outcome. On Saturday, against the same opposition, we didn’t play as well as we did in this game and we got a draw.”
Heath was particularly impressed with the way the team defended, with only four goals conceded in eight competitive matches so far in 2020/21. “We defended really well in both halves, but the difference today was that the boys produced more of what they are capable of in the second period going forwards,” he revealed.
“In the first half, Peterborough had more of the ball but we defended well and kept a compact shape,” Heath continued. “We didn’t allow Peterborough to create any chances with their possession, although I do believe we could’ve been better on the ball.”
“Having said that, we created three good chances. Tayo Adedoja was involved in the first two, sliding in Oli Coker for the first and then squaring to Oli after a great pass from Tommy Davis down the right-hand side. Oli also forced their goalkeeper into a great save from a Bobby Unwin pass.”
Unwin, who played instead of Kenny Coker in the only change to the team that had drawn 2-2 with Peterborough in the league at Boots & Laces on Saturday, was making his first start of the season after a staggered return from injury.
“It’s testament to Bobby that he was able to complete 90 minutes because I think the longest he had played previously this season was 45. He has shown professionalism and application and done all he can to get back ahead of schedule, and that’s also testament to Amy Rogers and Cat Malcolm and the work they’ve done.”
“Cat, as our Strength & Conditioning Coach, has done a lot of work with all the boys and the fitness levels they are showing is down to the work she and they have put in. They have worked really hard and even in the last ten minutes they looked fit.”
“Ricky Duncan is very keen that the players throughout the Academy are robust and that they push through the pain barrier and I think they showed that today, not just as individuals but as a group,” claimed Heath.
As the match progressed, Heath was pleased to see Blues move onto the front foot, even if they were eventually caught out by Keane’s late intervention. “They had the ball in the first half, but I felt we controlled the game,” he declared.
“In the second half, the boys started really well and were creating really good chances. Jaden Crowhurst and Luke Reeve came on after about 60 minutes and they did really well after spending some time out of the team. When Peterborough scored, it was against the run of play.”
“Out of the eight games we’ve played this season, it’s only the second time we’ve been behind, but the reaction was pleasing. They rolled their sleeves up and gave it a really good go and showed commitment to the cause. Damaray Anyadike missed a one-on-one and Bobby and Cameron Brown also had chances.”
Heath was also happy with the way the squad took it upon themselves to amend the way they were playing and push forwards to try to affect the result. “Towards the end, the boys changed their style,” he confirmed.
“They were still trying to play with quality, but they were pushing players on and trying to take a risk. As a coaching staff it was pleasing that they decided to mix it up a bit. They tried to get greater numbers forward and threw the kitchen sink at it.”
“The boys will be learning. They know they’ve got to start making performances count in the cup competitions because they’ve shown now they can do it in the league. They’ll have another opportunity at Ipswich Town in The FA Youth Cup, but for now our focus is on Northampton Town.”
Blues face the Cobblers away on Saturday as part of a sequence of five matches in 14 days that represents a similar scenario to what the squad would encounter in the first-team environment. Heath concluded that the experience will provide additional education for the team.
“The learning curve for the boys is to marry the performance with the result and managing themselves as we play Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday. The performance was very pleasing, but if you are pushing on into the first team you have to make it count with the win. That’s what we’ll be trying to do on Saturday.”
Southend United U18s: Jamie Grossart, Tommy Davis, Louie Arrowsmith, Callum Burkey (Jaden Crowhurst, 60), Ergis Shala (Luke Reeve, 60), Jimmy Wallace, Damaray Anyadike, Cameron Brown, Adetayo Adedoja, Oli Coker, Bobby Unwin. Unused substitute: Brian Garzon.