UPDATE: Under 18's suffer penalty blues



A Southend team suffered their second cup exit in a week, but this one was
particularly cruel.

Having clawed their way back to parity after trailing 2-0 a little before the hour mark, Blues' Youths managed to take the lead during extra time, only for Jack Ward's tap-in to level the scores again. Following 17 successful penalty kicks, Marcus Milner was the unfortunate individual who saw his spot-kick saved by Lloyd Anderson in the Bees goal.


Ricky Duncan went into the match having guided his young charges to the fifth round of the E.On sponsored competition last season and to the third round in the previous two campaigns. With Ricky Byrne injured and Medi Abalimba and Fredrik Ljungström deemed unready to return to action, Duncan named John Owinja at right-back and Stuart O'Keefe in the centre of midfield. Jack Morris also returned to action in place of Duran Reynolds at left-back, the first-year having appeared for the reserves in the Essex Senior Cup two nights earlier.


The opening exchanges were cagey as both teams attempted to weigh up their opponents. Centre-halves Ronnie Jones and Ade Osifuwa were on hand to snuff out any early trouble from the visitors, who had the first shot in anger some 24 minutes into the fixture when Ryan Blake's fierce effort was well held by Nathan McDonald.


United's retort was swift as Justin Hazell cut in from the left-hand side of midfield to fizz a shot against the top of the crossbar, the ball taking a slight deflection on its way onto the woodwork. Just after the half-hour mark, Craig Calver's teasing ball just eluded strike partner Harry Crawford as the Shrimpers finally started to threaten on the counter-attack.


With much of the play taking place directly in front of McDonald, it was no surprise when the Southend goalkeeper was beaten six minutes before half-time. Morris conceded a free-kick on the Brentford right and Lewis Ochoa delivered an excellent cross that Tom Davis galloped onto in front of Osifuwa, the front man sliding the ball inside the far post.


The final action of the first period saw Morris' corner headed goalwards by the towering Jones. The ball was headed out, but defender collected the clearance, hooking to the far post where Crawford only managed to nod into the gloves of Anderson.


There was an immediate change after the interval as Marcus Milner replaced Merrick James-Lewis to add some width to the hosts' formation. The switch did not enhance Blues' sluggish appearance; McDonald tipping James McCluskey's dipping cross-shot over the bar and Osifuwa recovering from an earlier slip to steal the ball from Davis' boots. Duane Broomes went even closer when his swerving shot just evaded the left-hand post.


After this constant pressure, Geoff Banks-Smith added the Bees' second in the 59th minute. A long free-kick down the left-hand side was collected by Banks-Smith, who ducked inside Jones to drive into the bottom right-hand corner.


With his team two goals down and seemingly on their way out of the F.A. Youth Cup, Head of Youth Duncan made a daring double-substitution, bringing Jamie Dennis and Kyle Asante into the fray at the expense of Morris and Crawford.


Straight away O'Keefe headed Calver's left-wing centre just over the crossbar though, on 65 minutes, the midfielder pulled one goal back with the help of a large slice of fortune. It was no more than the Shrimpers deserved after Dennis' tenacity saw him win the ball on the edge of his own penalty area and burst forwards into the opposition box. The first-year initially touched outside to Hazell and O'Keefe ran onto the ball to chip goalwards, his shot looping over Anderson with the aid of a large deflection.


There was certainly no element of luck about the Diss-based youngster's second strike some eleven minutes later. Calver was clipped thirty yards from goal, with referee Mr. P. Kelly awarding Blues a free-kick. Hazell stepped over the dead ball and O'Keefe curled a sublime set-piece into the very top right-hand corner of the goal.


Roots Hall was now buzzing as excitement levels were ramped up to a new level. A frantic spell saw Banks-Smith smash a screaming shot just wide before Hazell's incisive run was ended crudely by Thomas Duffy. The defender had already been cautioned, so the referee had no option but to dismiss him after showing him a second yellow card.


Calver, who had converted from twelve yards in his previous outing at Aldershot Town, grabbed the ball and turned quickly to take the ensuing penalty. However, the former Ipswich Town marksman was denied by Anderson, who guessed correctly and sprung to his left to turn the ball around the post.


In the dying seconds, O'Keefe's well-struck shot from Calver's lay-off skimmed the roof of the net as Southend ended well against ten men. Unable to find a winner in normal time, the match entered an additional thirty minutes with Jones planting a header just wide from a corner.


To their credit, the visitors refused to buckle, and their enterprising play was almost rewarded when Ochoa slammed a shot into the net from distance. The midfielder's effort was ruled out as the ball took a sizeable deflection off of another Brentford player who was standing in an offside position.


In first-half stoppage time, O'Keefe saw his fierce shot turned onto the post by Anderson but Blues would have to wait just two minutes after the turn-around to establish a lead for the first time in the match. Asante's break from midfield allowed the pacy forward to pick out the run of Hazell, who delivered a clinical finish into the back of the net.


The rollercoaster of emotions continued as the Bees levelled just over ninety seconds later. A corner was swung into the far post and, with the ball whizzing from one edge of the six-yard box to the other, substitute Jack Ward, who had only just replaced McCluskey, side-footed home.


Despite this setback, the Shrimpers still had a wonderful opportunity to steal the win in the 113th minute. Calver collected a long ball forwards and held off two defenders before seeking out O'Keefe alongside him. He in turn unselfishly squared to Asante, who was slightly better positioned to his right. Where Hazell had earlier been precise, Asante's daisy-cutter flew across the face of goal.


Brentford managed to end the match the stronger; David Pitt curling into the gloves of McDonald, but the sides could not be separated at the end of two hours' football. The omens were not good - Blues had lost all three of their previous shoot-outs in the F.A. Youth Cup, the most recent being a 3-1 reverse at Coventry City in December 2006.


Many of the spot-kicks were immaculate, with the away side always putting pressure on Southend by scoring first. Dennis, Jones, Asante and Calver - atoning for his earlier miss - all responded to being one behind before O'Keefe's fifth penalty, fired inside the right-hand post, effectively signalled the start of sudden death.


Still the Shrimpers kept their heads, captain Davis Abbey - who had been outstanding just in front of the back four and then as a centre-half after the withdrawal of Morris - Osifuwa and John Owinja all finding the back of the net.


There had to be a hero eventually, and Bees custodian Anderson was that individual. He took Brentford's ninth kick himself, smashing into the roof of the net and followed that up by correctly guessing that Milner would shoot to the goalkeeper's left. When Anderson connected with the ball, he was in almost exactly the same position as he had been some fifty minutes earlier to claw out Calver's penalty in normal time.

It was such a deflating way for the match to conclude, but Brentford ultimately deserved to progress if not for their overall performance, then for their continued positive endeavour whilst suffering a numerical disadvantage, particularly once Blues had taken the lead.


For the Shrimpers, even though they had not touched the heights that they had reached when defeating Queens Park Rangers earlier this season, or Academy opposition last term, they could still hold their heads up high for battling so hard when below-par. It will take some inspiration to pick themselves up before the League fixture against Gillingham on Saturday, but that is the task facing Ricky Duncan and his squad.


There will be more opportunities for the first-year scholars in this competition next year, but for now, they will be studying what went wrong on a dank Bonfire Night in southeast Essex, and making sure that they put it right for the challenges ahead in the Youth Alliance South-East Conference and League Cup.


Sout
hend United U18s:
Nathan McDonald; John Owinja, Ronnie Jones, Adetayo Osifuwa, Jack Morris (Jamie Dennis 62); Davis Abbey; Merrick James-Lewis (Marcus Milner 46), Stuart O'Keefe; Justin Hazell; Craig Calver, Harry Crawford (Kyle Asante 62). Subs not used: Jack Avery, Duran Reynolds.


Goals:
O'Keefe (66, 77), Hazell (108).

Booked: O'Keefe (30 - foul tackle), Morris (38 - foul tackle), Milner (112 - foul tackle).


Brentford U18s:
Lloyd Anderson; Lewis Ferrell, Fraser Franks, Thomas Duffy, Ryan Blake; James McCluskey (Jack Ward 109), Robin Nicholls, Lewis Ochoa, Geoff Banks-Smith (David Pitt 85); Duane Broomes (Max Peters 83).


(The following from Exiled Essex Boy)

Let's hope the first team don't make it a horrible hat-trick but bad luck lads, nobody should lose any game like that.

Meanwhile, youth team boss Ricky Duncan, speaking in the Southend Evening Echo, was in a mixed mood after seeing his side suffer such a heartbreaking exit.

While Duncan remained disappointed at the defeat, he was proud with the way he youngsters responded to force the tie into extra time: "It's hard to take but we didn't play at all well for the first 55 minutes. We were 2-0 down and deservedly so. We came back to lead 3-2 but we just couldn't hang on and it turned out to be one of those nights. In the end it was a game which had pretty much everything. Six goals, a missed penalty, a red card and a penalty shoot-out so it was certainly eventful and it hurts to have lost in that manner."

The Shrimpers were clearly upset by their exit but their sombre reaction also pleased Duncan who felt it proved their commitment to the club.

"They were gutted," he revealed. "It's been a while since I've walked into a changing room which has been that down but that shows their feelings for the club. We would've liked to have gone on and had another good cup run but that can't happen now. We still have plenty to be happy about though and now we have to try and pick the lads up again."