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Plymouth Argyle U18s 2-0 Southend United U18s, EFL Youth Alliance Merit League One, Harpers Park, Saturday 12th March 2022, Kick-Off 10:30am

14 March 2022

Goals either side of the half-time interval by Oscar Massey and Jamal Salawu consigned Southend United U18s to a 2-0 defeat away to Plymouth Argyle.

Blues travelled to Devon after registering an impressive 5-1 victory over Exeter City in their previous encounter, but a young team couldn’t repeat that impressive result on their longest journey of the 2021/22 season. 

Youth team coach Danny Heath gave debuts to schoolboy goalkeeper Luke Cerullo and U15s defender Louis Bragg, whilst a third member of the squad, Ronnie Blake, also made his first U18s appearance when he was introduced less than half-an-hour into the game as a substitute for Omari Williams. 

The squad travelled to the south-west on Friday afternoon and stayed overnight as the club attempted to replicate the first-team experience as well as bringing the bulk of next year’s scholarship group together with all but one of the second-years currently out on loan. 

Bright sunshine welcomed the visitors to Argyle’s training ground in Harpers Park, a lengthy goal-kick away from Home Park. This was something of a relief given the heavy overnight rain that took its toll on the area’s non-league fixture list, but the playing surface itself was immaculate. 

There was a high-intensity start to the encounter, but both teams struggled to fashion any openings in the first ten minutes with the two defences organising themselves quickly to snuff out any attacks. 

Plymouth used the width provided by their two wing-backs to good effect, and in the 12th minute a left-wing corner presented the first sights of goal for Jeffrey Forkou and Salawu, but their attempts were charged down by the Blues defence. 

Play switched immediately to the opposite end, where central defender Patrick Droney had an excellent chance to open the scoring from skipper Mo Amir’s deep free-kick. Droney powered his header over from close-range before good work by Henry Sandat and Max Fiddes gave Williams the opportunity to shoot from 25 yards out. His strike was inadvertently blocked by Freddie Buers. 

If Blues felt they were in the ascendancy at this stage, a succession of narrow escapes soon informed them otherwise. Cerullo made a comfortable save from Massey’s long-range piledriver in the 17th minute, whilst central defender Romeo Ebondo did well to cut out Freddie Issaka’s centre sixty seconds later and Salawu then dragged a shot wide of the left-hand upright following a well-worked free-kick routine. 

Midway through the first half, Salawu turned up another excellent chance to put the hosts in front after Jack Endacott picked him out at the far post. The forward angled his header off-target from six yards out and, when Williams required treatment shortly afterwards, it gave Heath some time to impart knowledge into his young charges. 

Blues started to look to play out from the back more often, and the pressure on their goal subsided as a result, but Buers and Fiddes were forced to drop deep to get on the ball and the withdrawal of Williams left the teenage Shrimpers bereft of his energy and creativity. 

Plymouth thought they had scored in the 38th minute when captain Carlo Garside slid in to convert Brandon Pursell’s free-kick, but a team-mate had forced the ball over the goal-line from an offside position. Cerullo then made an impressive stop from Massey with a strong right hand before Salawu headed over from a corner. 

Buers did well to break into the Argyle penalty area three minutes before half-time, but the home defence cut out his right-wing centre and instead it was Plymouth who edged in front on the stroke of the interval when Forkou’s superbly-executed reverse pass found Massey in space in the area and he clinically arrowed his finish into the bottom left-hand corner of the net. 

Massey forced another save from Cerullo in stoppage time but, after Blues re-grouped during the break, the visitors started the second half on the front foot. First Jacob Bland hooked over from an Amir set-piece, then Fiddes was unfortunate that his finish from a Blake cross was directed marginally the wrong side of the post. 

Instead, Plymouth extended their lead in the 50th minute shortly after Salawu had swept wide from Issaka’s pass. He was given another chance to score following a left-wing corner, and this time he engineered some space after Blues had failed to clear the initial delivery, firing home on the turn from twelve yards out. 

Bragg made an outstanding challenge in the penalty area to dispossess Issaka and Oscar Rutherford angled a shot across the face of goal before Amir and Fiddes failed to get clean strikes away from Sandat’s pass shortly ahead of the hour mark as Southend sought to halve their deficit. 

Cerullo brilliantly blocked with his legs at the near post to thwart the dangerous Massey midway through the second period, and Blues continued to battle. On 71 minutes Sandat was unfortunate when an overhead bicycle kick flew inches over from Bland’s chipped pass. 

However, the final quarter-of-an-hour saw a ruthless Plymouth outfit attempt to build on their lead, with substitute Kieren Edworthy nodding Rutherford’s right-wing cross wide and Cerullo making a pair of outstanding saves to deny Salawu. The forward also blasted over before Cerullo produced more heroics to keep out an Edworthy attempt. 

In stoppage time, Cerullo made another fine save, this time from Massey, to ensure Blues only suffered a two-goal defeat. Despite the result, Southend’s young squad could be proud of the way they handled themselves during the trip, and they will be seeking a better result when AFC Wimbledon visit Boots & Laces on Saturday. 

Southend United U18s: Luke Cerullo, Habib Bolarinwa, Louis Bragg (Ibrahim Kamara, 77), Jacob Bland, Patrick Droney, Romeo Ebondo, Mo Amir, Henry Sandat, Freddie Buers, Max Fiddes, Omari Williams (Ronnie Blake, 27). Unused substitute: Fin Purcell. 

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