Southend United U18s maintained their unbeaten start to the season as they registered a 2-2 draw with Peterborough United at Boots & Laces on Saturday morning.
Despite the eventual result, with namesakes Oli and Kenny Coker both having hit the target to put Blues in front, youth team coach Danny Heath was a little frustrated that his squad failed to build on their advantage in the EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference clash.
“I thought the boys played OK, but not quite at the levels we know they can reach,” he claimed.
“We were playing a good Peterborough side, so to take a point when we’ve not played as well as we can against one of the better teams is a positive sign.”
“But we went 1-0 up and maybe we’d want to keep it tight for ten minutes, so maybe conceding so quickly after each goal is something we need to improve on,” Heath added as the teenage Shrimpers failed to add to three consecutive victories in all competitions.
The return of Kenny Coker represented the only change to the line-up from the team that had defeated Cambridge United 2-0 in their previous outing. He replaced midfielder Jaden Crowhurst in the starting eleven, whilst captain Jimmy Wallace made his 50th youth team appearance at centre-back.
It took less than three minutes for Coker to make an impression. Tayo Adedoja won the ball impressively in midfield before offloading to his fellow first-year scholar, who strode purposefully forward before picking out the run of Oli Coker. He sprung the offside trap to convert his fourth goal of the season with his left foot.
Unfortunately, the lead was short-lived as Blues youngsters conceded their first goal in over six hours of football two minutes later. The ball was moved quickly down the right flank and then centred to Luke Harris at the far post, and he had the simple job of tapping home from close range.
Jamie Grossart did well to smother a couple more close-range efforts in the 12th minute, but a break in play caused by an injury to a Peterborough player enabled Southend to regroup and, in the 19th minute, Kenny Coker made it 2-1 when he stole the ball from a defender before thumping into the net from just inside the penalty area.
The forward couldn’t get any power behind a header from Callum Burkey’s chipped cross five minutes later and, with Louie Arrowsmith having snuffed out a previous Posh attack, Blues were pegged back again when the referee awarded the visitors a penalty and Charlie O’Connell sent Grossart the wrong way to equalise on 26 minutes.
Peterborough, who themselves have only been beaten once this term, continued to pose a threat before half-time, and Damaray Anyadike was well-positioned on the goal-line to block a fierce shot following a corner just after the half-hour mark.
Ergis Shala also did well just before half-time to track the run of a Posh attacker and time his challenge sufficiently to concede a corner, whilst Oli Coker found the side-netting with a 25-yard attempt at the opposite end.
Peterborough started the second half on the front foot, with Jamie Grossart pushing a free-kick out in the 52nd minute from underneath his own crossbar, before Wallace and Tommy Davis combined to charge down efforts when the ball was recycled into the penalty area.
After that, and with Bobby Unwin having been introduced in place of Arrowsmith at left-back, Southend pushed their visitors back into their own half. Blues showed good intensity and employed a high press, but chances remained at a premium.
Just after the hour mark the ball dropped invitingly for Anyadike after the Posh goalkeeper had failed to claim Oli Coker’s corner, but the winger couldn’t adjust his body quickly enough and he scooped his shot over from inside the six-yard box.
An Unwin cross also almost caught out the custodian, who managed to backpedal and tip the ball out for a corner, but a dramatic conclusion lay in store with the two teams still locked level in the third minute of stoppage time.
First Adedoja’s thumping strike was parried out by the goalkeeper, but Kenny Coker was on his heels and the shotstopper managed to recover. Then, after Grossart came out quickly to punch clear off the head of a Posh attacker, Oli Coker stabbed Anyadike’s right-wing centre goalwards.
Again, the goalkeeper managed to push the ball out, but this time Kenny Coker was presented with an opportunity to net the winner. The rebound arrived at the striker’s feet quickly and he snatched at the strike, sending it over and narrowly failing to grab a last-minute winner against opponents that they’ll meet again on Tuesday in the EFL Youth Alliance Cup.
“The boys need to keep their heads up, because they’re disappointed with the chances at the end,” revealed Heath. “That shows that they care, but they’ve got to think about the goals they did score and use that as a positive moving on.”
Southend United U18s: Jamie Grossart, Tommy Davis, Louie Arrowsmith (Bobby Unwin, 54), Callum Burkey, Ergis Shala, Jimmy Wallace, Damaray Anyadike, Kenny Coker, Adetayo Adedoja, Oli Coker, Cameron Brown.
Unused substitutes: George Murray-Jones, Jaden Crowhurst, Brian Garzon, Luke Reeve.
Goals: O Coker (3), K Coker (19)
Cautioned: Shala (51, dissent), Brown (62, foul tackle).