Southend United’s penultimate EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference fixture ended in a 2-0 defeat away to Gillingham on Saturday.
Blues now know that they must defeat AFC Wimbledon at home this weekend in their final match of the first phase of the season in order to secure second spot after conceding a goal in each half against the Gills.
“The boys set the target of winning the league, first and foremost,” reflected youth team coach Danny Heath. “Unfortunately, they did not do that, but they gave it their best shot until the end. The next target was to win the last two games of the season by performing well, and they’ve now said they’ve got one game left to show what they can do.”
“They need to perform more consistently throughout the 90 minutes, but they deserve to finish second because of the work they’ve put in. It’s a good group, on and off the pitch. Developing players as people is big at the Academy, and they’ve never made any excuses.”
“They’ve worked hard and grafted, and they’ve got to keep doing that to finish second. They are a group of winners; they have that mentality, so it would be great for them to do that, and they have the extra incentive that this could be their last game together as a group,” he added.
Southend were downed by a goal on the half-hour mark following a long throw into the penalty area that wasn’t cleared, before Gillingham doubled their advantage a quarter-of-an-hour from the end of the encounter.
Heath was frustrated that the hosts didn’t have to work for their goals, although he did obtain some encouragement from the side’s overall performance: “For the first 10-15 minutes we didn’t really show any composure to get the ball down in windy conditions,” he explained.
“During the last half-an-hour of the first half the boys played some good stuff and created three good chances. They started to complete some excellent passes and their goalkeeper has made some great saves, but in the second half we didn’t impose ourselves on the game.”
“We worked hard right to the end, and you won’t always win the game playing as well as you can. The lads rolled their sleeves up, even when they went 2-0 down, but it wasn’t to be.”
“It’s not just the goalkeeper and individuals that are accountable when we concede; it’s a team effort and you wouldn’t look at Gillingham’s goals yesterday and think that they came about through their good play.”
“However, at other times in the game you’ve got to praise our defenders and the likes of Louie Arrowsmith, Tommy Davis, Jimmy Wallace and Jaden Crowhurst defended solidly and got their blocks in. You have to have a defensive shape even when you are attacking, and the boys showed that tactical understanding,” he added.
There was further positivity to be gleaned from the first competitive appearance of Tendi Quamina as a scholar after two years out through injury, plus a second start for Fin Purcell in goal, a third substitute appearance for James Taylor in defence and a youth team debut as a substitute for a third schoolboy in the shape of Henry Sandot.
“It was a real positive seeing TendI come on,” Heath reported. “He deserves it because he’s worked his socks off to get an opportunity before the end of the season. He’s been professional and he’s always come in with his head up, so credit to him and credit to all the medical and sports science staff for the work they’ve put in with him. It’s pleasing for him and them.”
“As an Academy, we’re big on pushing and developing players. As well as getting U18s into the U23s and hopefully some U23s into the first team, we also want to see schoolboys progressing into the U18s and U14s into the U15s and U16s. If they can make the step up, we try to stretch them even more to go on and play two age groups up.”
“The clubs have agreed between them that the final group of fixtures in March, April and May will be U17 games with the second-years having to prove to Craig Fagan that they can step up to the U23s. The second-years will be pushed and challenged to earn their U23s place on merit, and it’s an opportunity to develop and challenge the next group of players,” he explained.
Southend United U18s: Finley Purcell, Jaden Crowhurst, Louie Arrowsmith, Callum Burkey, Tommy Davis (James Taylor, 60), Jimmy Wallace, Damaray Anyadike (Harrison Clayden, 60), Cameron Brown, Kenny Coker (Tendi Quamina, 75), Oli Coker (Henry Sandot, 60), Tayo Adedoja.