Woodford Town edged a thrilling pre-season encounter by the odd goal in nine at Haringey Borough’s Coles Park as Southend United U18s kicked off their pre-season campaign in north-east London.
Second-year scholar Brian Garzon netted twice for the teenage Shrimpers, with first-year Sam Ratcliff and schoolboy Freddie Buers also on target in the first half for Danny Heath’s team, but Blues weren’t able to protect a 4-2 half-time advantage.
"I thought in the first half we were very good,” said Heath. “We played some good stuff going forwards and we looked like we were going to score or create something from every attack.
"At half-time, at 4-2, we spoke to the boys about trying to keep a clean sheet, which would mean they’d win the game. We also spoke about Woodford’s rotations and holding the middle part of the pitch, and I felt we defended the middle part of the pitch well in the second half.
"We had a solid foundation, but I felt we were too open. In possession we got into some good areas, but we lacked the quality on the final ball and with the final shot that we’d had in the first half,” he lamented.
An entertaining fixture saw Woodford take the lead in just the seventh minute with a goal of real quality. Having won the ball on the edge of the Southend penalty area, a forward curled the ball majestically into the top right-hand corner of the net.
The advantage lasted just five minutes for the hosts as Blues attacking with pace and purpose down the right-hand flank. Ratcliff burst into the penalty area and picked out the run of Garzon at the far post, and the attacking midfielder slid the ball into the roof of the net.
Ratcliff could have nodded Blues in front two minutes later when he connected with a Buers cross, but he could only direct his header at the goalkeeper. However, on 19 minutes the winger did convert, tapping home a Mitch Fallows cross from close range at the far post.
Five minutes later Blues had doubled their lead through Buers after another excellent move down the right-hand side. This time Garzon held the ball up to release Jaden Crowhurst, and he fizzed the ball across the six-yard box for the wide man to slot home.
Forward Louie Rodmell twice sprung the offside trap around the half-hour mark, the second after a delightful through-ball from Buers, but the Woodford goalkeeper did brilliantly to smother both strikes.
On 35 minutes, Southend did stretch their advantage even further through Garzon. The move was almost a carbon-copy of the first goal as Ratcliff made ground down the right wing and squared to the second-year scholar, who just had to tap home at the far post.
Frustratingly, Woodford pulled a goal back two minutes later after a lapse in concentration at the back allowed an attacker to force the ball into the net from 15 yards out and, although Garzon was denied a hat-trick by the goalkeeper following Habib Bolarinwa’s pass, it would be the hosts who would hold sway after the break.
The initial portents were good for Blues as Ratcliff twice steered efforts narrowly wide, Buers was tackled as he unleashed a shot on the left-hand edge of the penalty area and Callum Burkey steered a shot into the gloves of the goalkeeper from distance.
However, on the hour mark, Woodford halved their half-time deficit as a forward brilliantly brought down a left-wing cross and then swept the ball beyond Fin Purcell.
Four minutes later Woodford had an excellent opportunity to level when Fallows was adjudged to have held an opponent, but Purcell produced a fine penalty save after guessing correctly to keep Blues in front.
Unfortunately, midway through the second half, Woodford did find their equaliser as a shot was arrowed into the bottom left-hand corner of the net and, on 76 minutes, the hosts took the lead as a right-wing cross was fired clinically into the back of the net.
Blues sought in vain for an equaliser; Rodmell was denied by the Woodford goalkeeper making himself big and Crowhurst headed powerfully at the custodian from an Omari Williams corner before Mo Amir’s stinging drive from distance was also held by the gloveman.
"It’s the first game of pre-season; some of the boys have played 90 minutes so, from a fitness point of view, they’ve done really well," remarked Heath. "They got through 75, 80, 90 minutes and it’s important that we manage them through the next couple of days.
"I’ll have to watch the game back with the goals we conceded, but if a team’s going to score against us, they’ve got toe earn it, and I felt that for two or three of the goals, they didn’t earn the right to get them.”
"Physically I thought we competed really well against a men’s Essex Senior League team. They were a good side, they were solid and they played some good football and had some good patterns of play so, in general I’m fairly pleased and there were more positives than negatives."
Southend United U18s: Fin Purcell (Luke Curullo, 80), Ibrahim Kamara, Mitch Fallows, Callum Burkey (Jaden Crowhurst, 75), Habib Bolarinwa (Patrick Droney, 61), Luke Reeve (James Taylor, 80), Sam Ratcliff, Jaden Crowhurst (Jacob Bland, 61), Louie Rodmell, Brian Garzon (Mo Amir, 61), Freddie Buers (Omari Williams, 61).
Goals: Garzon (12, 35), Ratcliff (19), Buers (24).