Another Blues cup exit as Youths go out

Last updated : 23 November 2008 By Robert Craven
Home v Gillingham - Saturday 22nd November 2008


Blues' Youths had progressed to the second round of the competition after winning their group, but the visitors made conditions tell in the second half to wreak revenge for their League defeat just a fortnight ago. With a strong and bitterly cold wind blowing in from the northwest, Southend had enjoyed the advantage of the arctic blasts during the first period and should have gone into the break ahead. Instead, they were left counting the cost of missed opportunities.

Ricky Duncan reinstated Justin Hazell, the 16-year-old midfielder helping Kyle Asante to flank Craig Calver up front in a 4-3-3 formation having made his first-team debut on Tuesday evening. There was also a rearrangement in defence, Callum Whittaker coming in at right-back and Ade Osifuwa partnering Ronnie Jones with Durran Reynolds switching to left-back.

Seven minutes had passed when Calver had the first effort on goal, seeing a deflected shot curve into the goalkeeper's gloves after burrowing into the penalty area. Hazell then flashed an effort across the face of goal from Jones' sweeping ball forwards before Jamie Dennis mis-kicked Calver's centre from a good position just outside the six-yard box.

Gillingham took the lead against the run of play in the 22nd minute. There appeared to be no danger as the Southend defence stroked the ball to each other, but Charlie Stimson and Adam Burchell began to exert pressure, leading to the former forcing the ball wide of the advancing Nathan McDonald for Burchell to pass into an unguarded net.

There was a swift response from the Shrimpers when Calver blasted into the side-netting from Dennis' flicked header, and the same pairing combined successfully on 26 minutes to level the scores. McDonald's long ball was glanced into the path of Calver, who controlled calmly before smashing a stinging shot into the top right-hand corner.

Dennis was unaware of an opportunity to give Blues the lead when he charged down a clearance from Hazell's right-wing cross, but two marginal decisions either side of half-time ultimately helped to shape the course of the match.

In stoppage time at the end of the first half, Asante slid the ball into the path of Calver who caressed a dipping shot over the 'keeper, only to see the ball strike the underside of the crossbar. As it fell, the Saffron Walden-born front man believed that it had crossed the goal-line, but Asante could not follow-up to eliminate any doubt and the assistant referee ruled out United's pleas.

A little over two minutes after the break, the Gills were in front again. Tom Murphy had just seen a long-range effort bounce off of the top of the bar when Ellis Munday swung a cross in from the right. McDonald was forced to collect at his near post, but the referee's assistant this time decreed that he had carried the ball over the line and awarded a goal.

Murphy and Stimson had an excellent opportunity to make it 3-1 when McDonald's goal-kick failed to reach the halfway line in a gust, but Davis Abbey raced back to snuff out the problem. At the other end, Calver teed up Merrick James-Lewis for a fierce drive past the left-hand upright.

At the midpoint of the second half, Southend drew level. Calver rode a challenge in the centre of the pitch before offloading to Hazell, who found the bottom left-hand corner with a clinical finish from 15 yards to record his seventh goal of the campaign.

Perhaps Blues' best opportunity arrived ten minutes from the end when Whittaker's free-kick from the right bounced up for Jones, who was positioned besides the penalty spot. Unfortunately, the defender's half-volley was fired over the crossbar.

Instead it was the Kent-based club who dealt the decisive blow after a contentious free-kick was awarded on the edge of the penalty area. Luke Rooney stepped up to fire towards the left-hand side of the goal, with a deflection ensuring that it nestled into the net away from McDonald's clutches.

Despite four minutes of injury time, largely awarded after a dog escaped its leash and bounded across the field, Southend could not find an equaliser and they will be searching for a better performance next Saturday when they travel to Brighton & Hove Albion in a return to League action.

Southend United U18s:
Nathan McDonald; Callum Whittaker (Fredrik Ljungström 88), Ronnie Jones, Adetayo Osifuwa, Durran Reynolds; Jamie Dennis (Harry Crawford 89), Davis Abbey, Merrick James-Lewis; Kyle Asante, Craig Calver, Justin Hazell.

Goals: Calver (27), Hazell (68).