Youth team coach Danny Heath hailed a “fantastic tournament” organised by West Ham United as Southend United travelled to Little Heath at the weekend to take on the hosts, Millwall and Reading.
“It was brilliant,” Heath declared. “West Ham put on a fantastic tournament for the lads. It was something different from their normal games programme and I’d like to say a big thank you to West Ham as the players have really loved it and so did all the staff.”
The format involved the four teams playing each other in three 40-minute matches - split into two 20-minute halves - with three points awarded for a win and one for a draw. At the end of the competition, the top two teams played in a final, with the other two playing off for third place.
Blues started brilliantly with a brace by forward Tayo Adedoja earning a 2-1 victory against Millwall in the opening match, but a 1-0 defeat to Reading meant only a win over the Hammers in the final match would be enough to guarantee a place in the final.
Ultimately the teenage Shrimpers were unable to overcome the home side, with West Ham grabbing a single-goal success before Millwall matched that scoreline in the final game of the day: “I thought the boys performed well and they can be proud of how they played,” said Heath.
“If you give West Ham and Reading an extra yard, they will punish you, and we had opportunities against both of those teams. We lacked a bit of quality on a consistent basis, and that can be the difference when stepping up a level.
“We have got a lot of first-years this season, so another thing we’ve spoken to the boys about is their communication and being a group on the pitch to organise each other. That was a massive strength for the youth team last year with the likes of Jimmy Wallace, Oli Coker, Tommy Davis, Ergis Shala and Cam Brown.
“Ultimately, they are the ones playing the game within the four white lines, so they need to take responsibility on the pitch. We can help to a certain degree from the side, but you need to have more than one person prepared to grab the game by the scruff of the neck,” he added.
Despite the results, Heath was encouraged by the performances of the squad, and how they managed to get more minutes into their legs during an arduous day against Category One and Category Two opposition.
“We had a staff meeting yesterday and one of the positives we spoke about was the amount of players in the U18s and U23s that have had 90 minutes already,” he claimed. “It shows that the boys are robust and they can deal with that many minutes in a short space of time.
“In the long-term, looking at the season ahead, the gaffer is big in the first-team about them being fit and out-running the opposition, so it’s a massive positive that players are showing they can play 140 minutes. That’s longer than a match going into extra time.
“We’ve picked up one injury, which was through a tackle, so that was a contact injury, but no-one’s picked up any strains or anything like that, and that shows the work that the lads have put into their training sessions, and that it makes them ready physically on a matchday.”
And another key focus was on adaptability, with a series of different formations used during the four matches, showcasing the squad’s ability to change formation during and between fixtures, and also to adjust to the way their opponents lined-up.
“Our pre-season syllabus is a four- or five-week block around coaching and working on different shapes so that, come the season, they’ll be able to adapt should we change shape in any game,” explained Heath.
“In the West Ham game, we changed shape three times because at 1-0 down we had to get two goals to get into the final, so we threw the kitchen sink at it. The boys have shown that adaptability to play three or four different formations, both in and out of possession, so that is pleasing.”
Match One vs Millwall (W2-1)
Tayo Adedoja netted a quickfire double to give Blues the perfect start to the competition with a 2-1 win against Millwall.
The second-year striker latched onto Sam Ratcliff’s perfectly-weighted through-ball in the sixth minute before rounding the Lions goalkeeper and squeezing the ball into the net from an acute angle to put Blues in front.
Nine minutes later Adedoja was celebrating again as he doubled the advantage. Ratcliff was involved again, winning the ball on the edge of his own penalty area before picking out Adedoja’s right-wing run and the forward steered his finish beyond the advancing goalkeeper from 20 yards out.
Southend had other opportunities to score during the first half as skipper Jaden Crowhurst forced an early save from the goalkeeper and Ratcliff himself earned a corner with a deflected strike before testing the custodian, but they had to settle for a 2-0 half-time lead.
Substitute goalkeeper Collin Andeng Ndi was fortunate when his clearance to a Millwall forward was curled wide in the 23rd minute, and Millwall did halve their deficit five minutes later when a wide player got around another replacement, Habib Bolarinwa, and his centre was converted at the near post.
Millwall dragged a left-footed shot narrowly wide shortly after the half-hour mark, but the best opportunity for a late goal fell to winger Omari Williams, who angled his shot into the side-netting after Brian Garzon had spread the play for Ratcliff to fizz the ball across from the right-hand side.
Danny Heath’s verdict: “Against Millwall I thought we deserved the win, so it was pleasing to get the result alongside the performance in the first game.”
Southend United U18s: Fin Purcell (Collin Andeng Ndi, 21), Ibrahim Kamara (Habib Bolarinwa, 21), Mitchell Fallows (Omari Williams, 31), Callum Burkey, Luke Reeve, Patrick Droney, Sam Ratcliff, Jaden Crowhurst, Tayo Adedoja, Brian Garzon, Louie Arrowsmith.
Match Two vs Reading (L0-1)
Reading snatched a crucial victory over the teenage Shrimpers with a deflected strike early in the second half after Southend had dominated the opening period.
Blues made a fast start to an encounter for the second match in succession, but this time they couldn’t apply the finish, and it ended up with them being punished by the Royals.
Adedoja was an early threat again, with a fourth minute shot charged down from Patrick Droney’s raking pass, and sixty seconds later the Reading goalkeeper made a fine save from Crowhurst’s left-footed effort. Defender Droney then lashed over from the edge of the penalty area after Louie Rodmell had shifted the ball into his path.
Callum Burkey sliced an attempt wide following Crowhurst’s long throw in the 11th minute, and the midfielder then helped a Crowhurst corner into the path of Burkey, who curled over from 25 yards out.
Three minutes into the second half, Reading took the lead as an attacker was allowed to progress through the centre of the pitch and his 25-yard strike flew into the top right-hand corner of the net.
Andeng Ndi made a smart save a few minutes later, but Southend had a couple of chances to grab a share of the spoils, with centre-back Luke Reeve nodding a Crowhurst corner narrowly over and schoolboy sub Freddie Buers finding Crowhurst at the far post, but the captain couldn’t hook home.
Danny Heath’s verdict: “Against Reading I felt we were the better team. We should’ve been 3-0 up and they scored with their only shot of the game, which was disappointing. Making their domination count is something the boys can learn from today.”
Southend United U18s: Purcell (Andeng Ndi, 21), Bolarinwa, Arrowsmith, Burkey, Reeve, Droney, Crowhurst, Garzon (Freddie Buers, 31), Adedoja, Louie Rodmell (Joe Shenouda, 21), Mo Amir (Jacob Bland, 31).
Match Three vs West Ham United (L0-1)
Blues U18s couldn’t gain the victory they required to qualify for the final of the competition as West Ham walked off with all three points thanks to a single-goal triumph.
The hosts enjoyed the lion’s share of the play in the opening half, and a second-minute effort was fired wide before Ibrahim Kamara made an important block on the goal-line following a corner.
Goalkeeper Fin Purcell made a vital stop, parrying the ball to safety having given away a free-kick by handling outside of the penalty area, and he was also quickly off his line to grab the ball off the feet of a West Ham forward just before the interval.
The closest Southend had gone to a goal was a Crowhurst free-kick that was curled into the goalkeeper’s gloves, and their task was made all the harder when Andeng Ndi spilled a right-wing cross and an unmarked attacker tapped home in the 26th minute.
Blues threw everything at their hosts in the final quarter-of-an-hour, changing from a 4-5-1 formation to 4-3-3 and then 3-4-3, but they couldn’t find a leveller, Adedoja narrowly failing to turn home a Ratcliff centre from six yards out after half-an-hour.
Danny Heath’s verdict: “The West Ham match was a good game between two good teams. I felt we were in it all the time, and their goal has come from our own mistakes, so without that we could’ve got a draw against a good West Ham team.
“I felt they had more quality on the ball, so they probably created more chances and more entries with the final pass, whereas we lacked that consistency, even though we were always in the game.”
Southend United U18s: Purcell (Andeng Ndi, 26), Kamara (Bolarinwa, 31), Fallows (Shenouda, 31), Burkey, Reeve, Droney (James Taylor, 39), Ratcliff, Crowhurst, Adedoja, Garzon (Buers, 31), Arrowsmith (Williams, 37).
Third/Fourth Place Play-Off vs Millwall (L0-1)
An injury-time penalty kick meant Southend finished the tournament in fourth place following a 1-0 reverse against Millwall.
Danny Heath gave the club’s first-year scholars extra game-time in the final fixture of the weekend, and they battled manfully to keep a more experienced Lions side at bay.
Millwall saw a couple of efforts directed marginally off-target in the first quarter of the match, whilst Williams saw a stinging shot repelled by the goalkeeper following good work by Shenouda.
Goalkeeper Purcell made a smart stop at his near post just seconds after coming on at half-time, but Blues had an opportunity of their own on 27 minutes when Rodmell’s cross was met by Shenouda’s acrobatic volley, although the ball looped up for the Lions gloveman to save.
Purcell gathered again on 38 minuites, this time following a far-post header from a corner, but he was powerless to stop a chipped penalty kick in stoppage time after a forward had been adjudged to have been brought down inside the area.
However, the young custodian did have the last laugh when he saved two spot-kicks in the pre-arranged penalty shoot-out at the end of the match, with Adedoja, Crowhurst, Garzon, Burkey and ultimately first-year winger Williams on target to earn a 5-4 sudden death victory.
Danny Heath’s verdict: “In the last game against Millwall we started the game with all our first-years and Freddie Buers as an U16 against an outfit of first- and second-year scholars, and they’ve won the game with a penalty with the last kick of the game.
“We stepped up to win the informal penalty shoot-out at the end and I felt that was good for the boys and allowed them to finish the day on a high.”
Southend United U18s: Andeng Ndi (Purcell, 21), Kamara, Fallows, Bland (Burkey, 30), Bolarinwa (Reeve, 22), Taylor, Amir (Garzon, 30), Williams, Rodmell (Ratcliff, 30), Shenouda (Crowhurst, 30), Buers (Adedoja, 30).