Southend United completed the EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference season with a seventh clean sheet of the campaign in a goalless draw with AFC Wimbledon at Garon Park.
The result meant Blues failed to edge ahead of Luton Town into second place in the league table, with Cambridge United’s victory over Leyton Orient meaning they usurped the Hatters to finish as runners-up to champions Peterborough United instead.
Despite that, there was much to be positive about for the teenage Shrimpers, who were unbeaten in fixtures in Essex for the first time since the 2008/09 title-winning campaign with five wins and three draws from their eight matches at Boots & Laces and, more recently, Garon Park. The only ‘home’ defeat came in a game against Cambridge that was switched to Newmarket Town FC.
Youth team coach Danny Heath was able to name an unchanged outfield ten, with the only switch from the 2-0 defeat at Gillingham coming in goal where George Murray-Jones replaced fellow schoolboy Fin Purcell. The shot-stopper would be joined by a further two U16s by the end of the match.
There were very few clear-cut opportunities during the opening quarter-of-an-hour as both sides sought to weigh-up their opponents. In the sixth minute, Jaden Crowhurst did well to intercept from Obed Yeboah just inside the Blues box, with Quaine Bartley smashing the loose ball narrowly over, whilst Kenny Coker couldn’t keep an effort down from a Crowhurst centre at the other end.
A feature of 2020/21 has been Tayo Adedoja’s endless enthusiasm and work ethic, and this almost proved pivotal in the 17th minute when he forced the ball through to Oli Coker, only for the playmaker to fail to get a meaningful shot on goal. Two minutes later Adedoja won the ball from goalkeeper Matt Cox, but he couldn’t locate a team-mate with his pass.
Damaray Anyadike’s last appearance at Garon Park had seen him complete a hat-trick in the first 21 minutes of the match against Northampton Town, and at the time of his third goal that day, he almost grabbed an audacious opener this time around after Cox had headed clear of Cameron Brown outside his area. Unfortunately, the winger’s volley towards an empty net was marginally over-hit.
The visitors had a glimpse of the Southend goal five minutes later when Dylan Adjei-Hersey picked out Troy Chiabi at the back post, but the Blues back-line closed the attacker down quickly and he prodded wide.
The first-half penalty area action ended after 30 minutes when Louie Arrowsmith went to ground under a challenge from Ben Mason after attempting to latch onto Kenny Coker’s return pass, but his appeals for a spot-kick were waved away.
Southend started the second period well, and good build-up play by Brown and Anyadike on the right-and side led to Oli Coker scooping over from 25 yards out in the 51st minute before Adedoja and Kenny Coker pressed high in the Dons penalty area to force a mistake from the restart.
Oli Coker was presented with possession, but Abdi Ali got back to concede a corner as the second-year scholar bore down on goal. The Blues front-line continued to employ a high press, eventually leading to Wimbledon having to clear long instead of playing out from the back.
However, opportunities remained rare, and it was the Dons who could have taken the lead in the 65th minute when Bartlett’s pass found Chiabi and he swept over with a first-time shot.
There was a welcome sight with twenty minutes remaining when second-year Tendi Quamina stepped up his return from a two-year injury lay-off by replacing Kenny Coker up front. In midfield, Callum Burkey made way for U16 Stanley Guerney to make his competitive youth team debut, becoming the 27th player - and the tenth schoolboy - used by Heath this season.
A few moments later Henry Sandot joined Guerney and Murray-Jones on the pitch as the match began to open up, the latter making a confident stop to deny Wimbledon substitute Paris Lock from another Adjei-Hersey cross in the 78th minute.
With a little under ten minutes left, both sides had superb chances to snatch all three points. First Blues somehow prevented the visitors from taking the lead with Murray-Jones making a stunning save from Chiabi with an outstretched left hand before Tommy Davis got back on the goal-line to clear the follow-up.
The play immediately switched 100 yards to the Wimbledon penalty area where Sandot’s measured inside pass found Adedoja and his rasping strike cannoned back off the woodwork. Quamina was perfectly-placed to turn home the rebound, but he rifled his shot into the side-netting.
Both sides threw themselves into the closing stages to try and grab a winner, but neither team could breakthrough. “The boys have put a great shift in, and on the day either team could have won it towards the end,” reflected Heath.
“I felt that it was a good game to watch between two good teams that showed both sides of the game. There was controlled aggression, commitment and work ethic, both with and without the ball. The chance that dropped to Tendi would’ve been a great way to win the game for him and the team, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be.”
Southend United U18s: George Murray-Jones, Jaden Crowhurst, Louie Arrowsmith, Callum Burkey (Stanley Guerney, 70), Tommy Davis, Jimmy Wallace, Damaray Anyadike (Henry Sandot, 79), Cameron Brown, Kenny Coker (Tendi Quamini, 70), Oli Coker (Brian Garzon, 90), Tayo Adedoja. Substitute not used: Collin Andeng Ndi.
Cautioned: Crowhurst (90+2, foul tackle).