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Southend United U18s 5-1 Portsmouth U18s, EFL Youth Alliance Merit League One, Boots & Laces, Saturday 2nd April 2022, Kick-Off 12:00pm

4 April 2022

Southend United U18s claimed a second 5-1 victory of the EFL Youth Alliance Merit League One season as Portsmouth were swept aside at Boots & Laces on Saturday morning.

Henry Sandat’s superb strike set Blues on their way in just the ninth minute before Tayo Adedoja and Brian Garzon finished excellent team moves to extend the advantage to three goals by half-time. Mo Amir made it 4-0 with a quarter-of-an-hour remaining and, although Harvey Laidlaw pulled one back for the visitors, Sandat completed the scoring late on.

“They were second before today,” beamed youth team coach Danny Heath afterwards. “Our goal difference might've taken us above them now, but they were second before today's game, so it shows the level of opposition the boys were up against.”  

“I said last week I felt that we haven’t been outplayed or dominated in the games we have lost this season, so that's a massive positive for us. And I think the pleasing thing was in this game we had both the win and the performance and, for us, that's a win-win situation, so I'm very pleased.” 

Heath was forced into one change to the starting line-up from the side that had defeated Stevenage impressively away from home seven days earlier with Fin Purcell injured. Luke Cerullo was also not fit to start, so U15s goalkeeper Charlie Brown was called up for his second youth team appearance. 

Blues hit the woodwork in just the fourth minute of the game, although it was a Pompey defender that was responsible as his attempt to cut out Ibrahim Kamara’s right-wing cross resulted in him looping the ball over the goalkeeper and against the crossbar. 

Two minutes later Brown made a comfortable save from Maxwell Hurst’s close-range finish, and Southend were soon in front. The move began at the back with the ball being switched from right to left before Habib Bolarinwa’s raking pass was brought down by Adedoja, who laid the ball off for Sandat to send a delightful curling shot into the top right-hand corner of the net. 

As Heath identified, the visitors had arrived in south-east Essex behind only Plymouth Argyle in the league table, and skipper Harrison Clayden was required to step in to cut out a reverse pass in the 16th minute before Brown pushed out Laidlaw’s viciously swinging corner and confidently claimed the follow-up. 

Midway through the opening period, Blues were 2-0 up. Rather than a longer pass from the back, on this occasion the ball was moved through the thirds, culminating in Max Fiddes picking out Ibrahim Kamara’s right-wing run and the full-back’s measured pass being steered into the roof of the net by Adedoja ahead of goalkeeper Toby Steward. 

The scoreline might have suggested that Southend were finding things easy, but Brown was called upon to make an outstanding save in the 27th minute to push Laidlaw’s free-kick away from the top right-hand corner of the net. 

However, there was now a certain swagger to the home side’s attacking play, and Jacob Bland exchanged passes with Sandat in the 31st minute before a one-two by Kamara and Fiddes helped work the ball into the path of Amir, who saw his near-post effort smothered by Steward. 

Sandat, in particular, was full of confidence after his early goal and he travelled all the way through midfield in the 37th minute to set up Adedoja, who drew a good low stop from Steward. Sixty seconds later Sandat was linking up on the left with Garzon, whose cross was nodded wide by Amir. 

Bolarinwa showed how Southend’s defenders were learning from their previous experiences as he picked up a first-half yellow card for pulling back Destiny Ojo on the halfway line and breaking up an attack out of range of an attacking free-kick, whilst Fiddes went close to a third by firing inches over after Sandat had flicked on Droney’s pass.  

The half did finish with a third goal after a vital contribution from Clayden at the back earned possession for the hosts. Sandat and Adedoja were involved on the left-hand side, and Amir then set up Garzon, who clipped an excellent finish inside the right-hand post from the edge of the penalty area. 

Earlier in the campaign Blues had seen a 3-1 lead overturned by South East Conference champions AFC Wimbledon, so there was no complacency among the camp at the interval. Heath spoke later of their expectations that Pompey would put the home goal under pressure, and that was how the game transpired. 

Brown made a point-blank stop to thwart Harry Jewitt-White from a Laidlaw free-kick within four minutes of the restart, and a succession of corners were then cleared early in the second half before Jamie Howell dragged a 20-yard strike wide of the left-hand post in the 58th minute. 

Shortly after the hour mark Bolarinwa telegraphed Ojo’s left-wing centre to clear the ball, and there were signs that Blues had seen off the danger in the 63rd minute when Kamara found Amir in space in the penalty area and his thumping half-volley was cracked against the right-hand post. 

With his next opportunity, Amir would be more clinical. Having picked up possession on the left-hand side of the penalty area, the midfielder netted the tenth youth team goal of his career by arrowing a finish inside Steward’s near-post. 

Heath immediately made a raft of changes with Bland, Amir and Adedoja replaced by Alfie Bangs - who became the ninth schoolboy to make his youth team debut this season - Ronnie Blake and Omari Williams, who had recovered from an injury sustained at Plymouth Argyle. 

Southend’s hopes of keeping a clean sheet immediately evaporated as Laidlaw’s free-kick from the right touchline swirled over Brown and bounced into the net off the left-hand post in the 77th minute. 

The visitors may have still believed they could launch an astonishing late comeback at that stage, but Brown made an excellent save with eight minutes remaining, contorting his body to change direction in mid-air and push out Herwitt’s attempt to convert Gabriel Kamavuako’s centre from close range. 

The remaining substitutes, Smai Norman and Romeo Ebondo, were thrown on for the final five minutes, and they helped Blues to snuff out any further aspirations of a goal from the visitors. The match was subsequently ended in style by Sandat, who controlled Garzon’s pass on his chest and turned to whip a 25-yard shot into the bottom right-hand corner of the net and make it 5-1. 

Southend United U18s: Charlie Brown, Ibrahim Kamara, Habib Bolarinwa, Jacob Bland (Alfie Bangs, 75), Harrison Clayden (Smai Norman, 85), Patrick Droney (Romeo Ebondi, 85), Mo Amir (Ronnie Blake, 77), Henry Sandat, Tayo Adedoja (Omari Williams, 77), Max Fiddes, Brian Garzon. 

Goals: Sandat (9, 89), Adedoja (22), Garzon (45+2), Amir (75). 

Cautioned: Bolarinwa (41, foul tackle). 

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