Southend United’s involvement in the EFL Youth Alliance Cup was brought to an end on Saturday morning by Northampton Town, 2-1, at the Area Quarter-Final stage.
Jack Connor put the Cobblers in front ten minutes before half-time after seizing on a mistake in the Blues back-line, and Rico Duggan doubled the advantage five minutes after the interval, but Mo Amir’s strike halved the deficit with 18 minutes remaining and Southend were unfortunate not to force a leveller in a dominant second period.
Louie Arrowmith’s full involvement in the previous evening’s Premier League Cup match at Colchester United meant he wasn’t available to youth team coach Danny Heath, but Jaden Crowhurst, Tayo Adedoja and Luke Reeve - who were among the substitutes at the JobServe Community Stadium - were included.
Ibrahim Kamara stepped in at left-back for the teenage Shrimpers, who were otherwise unchanged from the team that had defeated Stevenage in the league seven days previously, meaning first-years Jacob Bland and Henry Sandat retained their places in midfield.
Northampton had an early opportunity to open the scoring in the third minute when Kai O’Keeffe struck the outside of the right-hand post after Peter Abimbola had flicked Josh Tomlinson’s long ball into his path, but Blues responded well and Brian Garzon saw an effort charged down on the edge of the penalty area after good build-up play by Habib Bolarinwa and Crowhurst,
Both teams were guilty of surrendering possession too quickly and leaving themselves open to the counter-attack on the transition, and once such chance presented itself to Town’s Jack Connor in the 19th minute, but Bolarinwa tracked his run and made an important challenge.
Crowhurst dragged an opportunistic first-time strike wide of the left-hand post from 25 yards out for Blues, but the Cobblers were having the better of the opportunities and O’Keeffe should have done better in the 26th minute when he headed Miguel Ngwa’s cross wide whilst unmarked at the back post.
At the other end both Crowhurst and Garzon were playing as inverted wingers, and the skipper used that to his advantage when he skipped inside before firing into the side-netting on 31 minutes before his fellow second-year scholar drilled the ball into James Dadge’s gloves from 20 yards out.
However, there had been an anxious moment on the half-hour mark when Fin Purcell rolled the ball out to Patrick Droney and his clearance hit O’Keeffe and bounced wide. Five minutes later, Blues weren’t so fortunate as Purcell elected to control Luke Reeve’s back pass and Connor stole in to tap into an unguarded net.
Northampton grew in confidence as a result of edging ahead, and Kamara did well to shield the ball from O’Keeffe at the far post after Ngwa had crossed and Purcell then made a comfortable save from Duggan.
The half ended with Crowhurst cutting across a shot to sent it high and wide and Bland seeing his attempt following a Garzon corner deflected out for another flag-kick, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Heath from deciding to make a triple substitution at the break.
The youth team coach elected to bring on Sam Ratcliff, Omari Williams and Amir in place of Callum Burkey, Bland and Sandat, and changed the shape to a 4-3-3 with Ratcliff and Williams supporting Adedoja from the wide positions.
The changes appeared to have an immediate effect as Ratcliff spread play right to Bolarinwa and his right-wing cross was smashed over on the half-volley by Williams, but Northampton instead doubled the lead on 50 minutes as Duggan collected the ball after good hold-up play by Connor and dispatched a clinical finish into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
The second goal did not deter the Shrimpers, who continued to press forwards with Amir forcing Dadge into a full-length save following Crowhurst’s long throw and Adedoja’s follow-up deflected out for a corner.
On 53 minutes Adedoja’s glancing touch onto a left-wing Kamara cross took the ball away from the onrushing Ratcliff, who would’ve had a simple header into the net, and Garzon then warmed the gloves of Dadge from distance.
Blues continued to dominate, and Crowhurst galloped onto a shot just before the hour mark that he directed wide, but as they pressed on they left themselves more susceptible to a Cobblers counter-attack and Brad Smith-Howes’ quickly-taken free-kick almost caught them out, with Bolarinwa eventually doing well to prevent Ngwa from converting Connor’s centre.
The hosts could have put the tie beyond Southend’s reach midway through the second half when Ngwa’s centre picked out captain Abimbola, but he prodded inches wide and seconds later Purcell turned Ngwa’s effort around the post.
Instead, on 72 minutes, Blues were right back in the game as they finally applied a composed finish following good work from Williams down the left-hand side. His cross just eluded Ratcliff at the near post, but Amir was positioned eight yards out to drill through a crowded six-yard box and into the net.
Two minutes later the midfielder was picked out by Adedoja, but he smashed over, and with four minutes remaining the first-year scholar was found again inside the penalty area, but he elected to take a touch to control Ratcliff’s delivery and that allowed Smith-Howes to step in to clear.
O’Keeffe again headed wide, this time from Tommy Curry’s left-wing cross, but Blues remained in the game as the referee indicated an additional six minutes were to be played. Garzon fired wide of the left-hand upright, but Blues couldn’t find an equaliser, with Amir blasting over from 20 yards deep into stoppage time.
Next up for the teenage Shrimpers in The FA Youth Cup Third Round Qualifying tie against Aveley at Roots Hall, where Heath’s charges will be seeking to immediately bounce back and progress to the First Round Proper. Admission is £5 for adults and £1 for concessions.
Southend United U18s: Fin Purcell, Habib Bolarinwa, Ibrahim Kamara, Jacob Bland (Mo Amir, 46), Luke Reeve, Patrick Droney, Jaden Crowhurst, Callum Burkey (Sam Ratcliff, 46), Tayo Adedoja, Henry Sandat (Omari Williams, 46), Brian Garzon. Unused substitutes: Joe Shenouda, Luke Curullo.
Goal: Amir (72).