Essex Under 18s moved joint top of Group A of the South East Counties Championship after a late flurry earned all three points against London at AFC Croydon Athletic.
The contest had been locked at 1-1, with Essex skipper Albert Keith levelling in the first half after an early penalty had put the hosts ahead. Then three goals inside the final ten minutes earned the visitors a 4-1 win. Aveley’s Kieran Southgate netted twice either side of a penalty from Grays Athletic’s Afolabi Soyenmi-Ololade.
Graham Hall’s side will head into next month’s final group game with Middlesex knowing just a point will be enough to seal top spot and an end-of-season play-off to decide the championship against the winners of Group B, one of Amateur Football Alliance, Hertfordshire or Sussex.
On a tricky surface at the Mayfield Stadium, Essex started brightly but gave away a penalty with just 11 minutes played. Jake Jolliffe tripped Ronnie Payne in the area and Payne himself sent Essex goalkeeper James Scammell the wrong way from the spot.
Essex looked a threat from their own set pieces and Enock Soganile later nodded narrowly too high from a Keith corner. Then Soganile came close again as his half-volley dipped just over the top following Southgate’s flick-on. Scammell went on to make a good save at the other end to keep out Tom Park’s rasping effort before an excellent long-range effort from Essex’s Misha Djemaili dipped inches wide of the post.
On 38 minutes, the equaliser did arrive for the away side. Soganile chased a ball down the left flank and cut back for Keith to neatly turn in at the near post. Into the second period, Essex’s Scammell raced off his line to make a fine block and deny Jaden Edwards prior to London twice seeing the ball scrambled off the goal line. Glory Bello and Edwards were both denied as the ball fell safely into Scammell’s gloves.
It was perhaps a let off for Essex, but they had enjoyed the better of the contest and they edged ahead on 80 minutes as a fine Soganile cross was firmly headed in by Southgate. Soyenmi-Ololade snatched at a good chance as he flashed over but, on 88 minutes, the Grays front man was given a chance to extend his side’s lead. He was adjudged to have been fouled by George Dickinson and then stepped-up to confidently stroke home from the penalty spot.
The win was sealed a minute into added time as Southgate was slipped through before finishing well with a side-footed finish beyond substitute ‘keeper Luis Conduto. There was still one chance for the hosts to pull a goal back. A free kick from a picked-up backpass saw Dean Humphrey smash a low effort inches past the near post.
Essex: James Scammell (Thurrock), Ryan Knight (Romford), Sam Mvemba (Romford), Jack McQueen (Barking), Jake Jolliffe (Shenfield High School), Wyan Reid (Thurrock), Tyler Richardson (AFC Hornchurch), Misha Djemaili (Romford), Kieran Southgate (Aveley), Albert Keith (Tilbury), Enock Soganile (Hampton & Richmond Borough). Substitutes (repeated): Callum Fitzer (Maldon & Tiptree), Afolabi Soyenmi-Ololade (Grays Athletic).
London: Aaron Cathrew (Greenwich Borough), D’Maire Smith (Dynamic), Turkay Korkmaz (Unattached), Ben Marus (Cheam Sports), George Dickinson (Greenwich Borough), Richardo Sewell (Caribb), Ronnie Payne (Greenwich Borough), Alfie Naylor (Crayford Arrows), Jaden Edwards (Esher Wizards), Adam Azziz (Royal Russell), Sam Park (Greenwich Borough). Substitutes (repeated): Cliffon Richard (Tower Hamlets), Dean Humphrey (Tower Hamlets), Glory Bello (Tower Hamlets), Luis Conduto (Greenwich Borough), Mackenzie Foley (Greenwich Borough).
Referee: Karl Parker.
Assistant Referees: Mark Lewin and Richard Marus.