The Middlesex Under-18 team suffered a narrow defeat last Sunday in its first South East Counties Youth Championship match of the season.
This match, played at Rectory Park, was the last in a trilogy of outstanding games against our friends and rivals from Essex FA. Previously this season, we had come from behind to win both our Women’s game (4-3) and our Under-16s encounter (3-2). However, although we pulled back a two-goal deficit, this time our visitors scored the deciding goal to win 3-2. All three of these matches were a terrific advertisement for county representative football.
Essex started strongly and wing-back Jay Bacon put them ahead with a low cross-shot in the 7th minute. We hit back immediately and a cross-shot from Femi Azeez appeared to hit the far post and fly back across the goal into the prostrate 'keeper's hands. Reliable well-placed watchers from both teams were convinced, however, that the ball actually hit the ironwork inside the goal.
Middlesex continued to attack but could rarely penetrate the well organised Essex rearguard. Goalkeeper Billie Leferve saved at close range after Oliver Lawford had connected with Femi’s cross. Good approach work by Johnny Gill and Efraim Difuamna-Hyingi set up Oliver, who was again foiled by a close-range save. Then an angled drive by Femi narrowly cleared the crossbar.
A dangerous breakaway by our visitors ended with a low cross-shot across our goal by Tyler Cavener. However, Essex doubled their lead in the 31st minute through Sonny Dutton, who picked up the ball in our penalty area, with plenty of room to take the ball around the 'keeper and stroke it into the net.
Both sides had further chances before the interval, the best falling to Sonny Dutton, who blazed wide when well placed. This would have almost certainly put the game out of our reach. Essex deserved their half-time lead.
Half-Time Score: Middlesex 0 Essex 2
Manager John Fletcher reorganised his team at half-time and there was an immediate improvement. Five minutes after the interval, substitute Ruben Carvalho reduced the arrears with a spectacular high cross-shot. Then, almost immediately, we were level. Femi’s fierce drive was well saved by the Essex custodian but Jamie Fulton netted from the rebound.
We threatened to go ahead following a good four-man team move but Ruben’s finishing shot was narrowly wide.
Essex stormed back and good defensive work by Marco Afonso dispossessed Rashaad Ogun at a critical moment. However, they were not to be denied and regained the lead after 66 minutes. Callum Fitzer, who was free on the far side of our goal, converted a low cross from close range.
Both goalkeepers subsequently made important saves. Jonti Purdon turned Callum Fitzer’s header over the bar and Billie Leferve saved from Mason Tunbridge with his feet.
Skipper Mason was outstanding in midfield for Middlesex throughout the match.
The last significant action of the game was a prolonged scramble in the visitor’s penalty area. However, we couldn’t force the ball home and Essex deservedly took all three points.
Final Score: Middlesex 2 Essex 3
At the conclusion of the match, President John Davies presented Simeon Olarein with his Middlesex cap to mark the latter’s sixth appearance for the county.
Caolan Doyle (Northwood), Ricardo Matos (Wingate & Finchley), Marco Afonso (Hanwell Town), Jamie Fulton (Northwood), Jacob Adeyemi (Wingate & Finchley), Sukru Yildiz (Potters Bar Town), Johnny Gill (Soccer Chance Academy), Mason Tunbridge (Enfield Town) (capt), Efraim Difuamna-Hyingi (Hanwell Town), Oliver Lawford (Northwood) and Femi Azeez (Wealdstone)
Substitutes (repeat substitutions were used): Radu Stefanoaica (Uxbridge), Simeon Olarein, Ruben Carvalho and Jonti Purdon (all Wingate & Finchley)
Jonti took over in goal for the second-half.
Manager: John Fletcher
Assistant Manager: Darrel Gyngell
Coaches: Vince Purdue and Danny Gyngell
Physio: Gary Strudwick
Billie Leferve (Barking Abbey College), Torgbor Torto-Tetteh (AFC Hornchurch), Jay Bacon (Romford), Tom Duffy (Billericay Town), Jack McQueen (barking) (capt), Jess Norey (Romford), Tyler Cavener (Lakeside/Billericay Town), Sofian Maghouz, Peter Oyetunji, Rashhaad Ogun (all Romford) and Callum Fitzer (Bowers & Pitsea)
Substitutes: Tom Troubridge (Bowers & Pitsea) and Sonny Dutton (AFC Hornchurch)
Manager: Graham Hall
Assistant Manager: Andy Tickner
Referee: Nigel Hickes
Assistant Referees: Andy Tooley and Mike Partridge (all Middlesex FA)
Click here for a full gallery of photos, captured by Chris Benn