Southend United’s involvement in the National League Academy Cup was restricted to a single match as Hampton & Richmond Borough earned a penalty shoot-out win following a 1-1 draw at Burroughs Park on Wednesday.
The competition is open to clubs in the Academy Divisions of the National League U19s Alliance - where Hampton & Richmond reside - and invited clubs from the National League. This First Round clash was the inaugural tie for Blues, who could only manage a 1-1 draw thanks to Tayo Adedoja’s scrappy finish.
Having been knocked out of The FA Youth Cup by Cambridge United - again on spot-kicks - and the EFL Youth Alliance Cup at Northampton Town, this was the final opportunity for Southend to earn knockout silverware this term, but a jaded performance saw Blues fail to progress.
Youth team coach Danny Heath was full of praise for the squad’s opponents: "If I’m honest, we were lucky to get the opportunity of a penalty shoot-out,"he said. "I felt Hampton deserved to go through, which they did eventually, but they deserved to win the game in normal time."
"On the day, they were the better team, they were the hungrier team and they looked like they wanted it more than us. They were on the front foot more than us and it was disappointing."
"There are no excuses. In football, you’re not always going to perform at your best, but the minimum that you have to do is make it hard for the opposition. I don’t think we did that."
Eight of the team had been involved in the Premier League Cup reverse at Stoke City on Monday evening, including youth team vice-captain Callum Burkey, who lined up alongside first-year scholar Patrick Droney in an unfamiliar central defensive role.
Blues enjoyed plenty of possession during the opening period, but it was the visitors who had the first sight of goal in the eleventh minute when Droney had to step across Nicholas Komey to preventing him from testing Collin Andeng Ndi.
At the opposite end Cameron Brown’s effort from the edge of the penalty area was charged down by Hampton defender David Amate, whilst Brian Garzon snatched at a volleyed attempt from a similar distance and sent his shot over the crossbar midway through the first half.
Whilst Blues continued to pass the ball around competently at the back, they couldn’t deliver a telling pass when moving forwards and neither of their third-year forwards, Tendi Quamina and Tommy Lambourne, could test Kam Zain in the visiting goal.
Hampton looked purposeful when they attacked, but Andeng Ndi wasn’t extended as Raheem Fernandes dragged a shot wide of the right-hand post from Komey’s cut-back in the 27th minute and then fired over with an optimistic 30-yard strike five minutes before the interval.
Heath implored his side to pick up the pace after the break, but it was the Beavers that took the lead six minutes into the second half. Lambourne was penalised for a foul as he attempted to cut out a right-wing cross at the far post, and Ronan Hutchins deceived Andeng Ndi from the penalty spot.
"At half-time we said that if we performed at the same level in the second half as we did in the first, we would give them a chance. That’s exactly what happened with the build-up to their penalty,"explained Heath.
"We took too many touches in the middle of the park and gave them the opportunity to regain the ball. That put us on the back foot, and we then gave away a cross and it’s come all the way across our box, which we haven’t dealt with and we then make the foul that gives away the penalty."
Brown did have the ball in the back of the Hampton net four minutes later, but his effort from Garzon’s chipped pass was ruled out for offside and Heath turned to substitutes Sam Ratcliff and Tayo Adedoja to try and improve the side’s fortunes.
Zain did drop a Garzon cross in the 64th minute, but he recovered his composure to grab hold of the ball ahead of the waiting Bobby Unwin. At the other end, Andeng Ndi made a superb save, flying to his left-hand side to turn a Hutchins strike around the post following a persistent run.
Blues were handed a lifeline in the 73rd minute when Zain failed to gather an Unwin left-wing centre and Adedoja was on hand to force the ball over the goal-line from a couple of yards out to equalise ahead of Hampton defender Jay Hines.
Seven minutes later Adedoja had a chance to nod Blues in front from Jaden Crowhurst’s deep right-wing cross, but his header was directed inches wide of the left-hand upright and instead it was the away team that almost snatched victory in the closing stages.
First Callum Burkey stole possession from Hutchins as he was primed to shoot from a Fernandes pass, then Andeng Ndi made a fingertip save to push Miles Croal’s rasping shot over the crossbar before Croal nodded the resultant corner narrowly wide.
The match went straight to penalties, but Brown and Crowhurst saw their spot-kicks saved by Zain and, despite Andeng Ndi saving from Croal, Hampton had a 1-0 advantage after two penalties apiece. Unwin, Bland and sub Henry Sandat were all successful from twelve yards, but Fernandes held his nerve to convert the final penalty and earn a 4-3 win.
"We were lucky to even get to a penalty shoot-out because Collin had to make one save with his hands over the bar and another to the right-hand side with his legs. Again, both of those opportunities came from us giving the ball to them in our own defensive half of the pitch," Heath stated.
"They attacked with speed, and they had quality, and we didn’t do that. Even the goal we scored, the keeper has dropped it and we’ve got a tap-in. Overall, it’s a disappointing performance, which is a shame because we’re not normally that lacklustre."
"Normally if we’re not playing well we’ll at least have a battle and put up a fight and make it hard for the opposition. It was similar to the Aveley game in The FA Youth Cup where, as the game went on, they looked like the better team and had more opportunity of winning."
"We’re looking at performances and asking if that’s enough to get a professional contract, or get up with the first-team, or the U23s, and there definitely weren’t many of those. We didn’t do the basics to the best of our ability. That happens in football, but it’s disappointing," he concluded.
Southend United U19s: Collin Andeng Ndi, Jaden Crowhurst, Louie Arrowsmith, Jacob Bland, Callum Burkey, Patrick Droney, Brian Garzon (Henry Sandat, 80), Cameron Brown, Tommy Lambourne (Sam Ratcliff, 59), Tendi Quamina (Tayo Adedoja, 59), Bobby Unwin. Unused substitutes: Mo Amir, Omari Williams.
Goal: Adedoja (73).