Essex Under 18s survived a comeback scare to get back to winning ways as Middlesex were beaten 3-2 in the South-East Counties Championship at Rectory Park, Northolt.
Goals from Jay Bacon and Sonny Dutton had given Essex a two-goal half time lead, but two strikes within a minute shortly after the interval hauled Middlesex level. However, Graham Hall’s Essex side regained their composure and grabbed the win - the first of this season’s league campaign - thanks to Callum Fitzer’s close-range winner.
Fitzer, and skipper Jack McQueen, were then rewarded for their county performances after the game, receiving their County Caps for ten appearances.
The pair and their team mates, a number of whom will be eligible still next season, now face a final South-East Counties group fixture with the Amateur Football Alliance which could decide whether Essex get a second successive shot at the Championship Final, having been edged out by Sussex at that final hurdle in 2018.
On a bitter but bright lunchtime in West London, Essex started with intent and they led inside 4 minutes. Fitzer’s free kick wasn’t cleared and Bacon’s low shot wriggled past Middlesex goalkeeper Caolan Doyle into the bottom right-hand corner of the goal.
Essex’s Rashaad Ogun then broke into the penalty area, but was denied by an excellent tackle from Sukru Yildiz before the hosts came inches from a leveller. Femi Azeez’s low, angled shot hit the far post and bounced back into the gloves of debutant ‘keeper Billie Leferve.
Sofian Maghouz rolled a low drive just wide for the away team before an excellent block at the opposite end denied Middlesex’s Oliver Lawford from close range. Shortly after the half-hour, Essex doubled their lead when Dutton skipped past ‘keeper Doyle and finished into an empty net.
Middlesex ended the half strongly. Leferve made a brilliant save to keep out Azeez before McQueen made a good block to deny Efraim Difuamna-Hyingi. But the home side couldn’t find a response before the break. It was a different story after the restart and, just seven minutes into the second half, Middlesex were back on terms.
Firstly, Ruben Carvalho’s cross-shot found the top left-hand corner and then, after Azeez’s shot was pushed away by Leferve, Jamie Fulton pouncing to fire in the rebound. A good Middlesex move then saw Radu Stefaioca send a half-volley just wide but, on 67 minutes, Essex were back ahead. Peter Oyetunji’s low centre was converted by Fitzer at the far post.
The closing stage were reasonably quiet as the visitors looked to hold on for the win, but they did have one more chance two minutes from time as Dutton’s dipping, looping header was tipped onto the roof of the net by Jonti Purdon.
Essex: Billie Leferve (Barking Abbey College), Torgbor Torto-Tetteh (AFC Hornchurch), Jay Bacon (Romford), Tom Duffy (Billericay Town), Jack McQueen (Barking), Jess Norey (Romford), Tyler Cavener (Billericay Town), Sofian Maghouz (Romford), Peter Oyetunji (Romford), Rashaad Ogun (Romford), Callum Fitzer (Bowers & Pitsea). Substitutes (repeated): Tom Troubridge (Bowers & Pitsea), Sonny Dutton (AFC Hornchurch).
Middlesex: 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), Effy Difumna-Hyingi (Hanwell Town), Ollie Lawford (Northwood), Femi Azeez (Wealdstone). Substitutes (repeated): Radu Stefaioca (Uxbridge), Simeon Olarein (Wingate & Finchley), Ruben Carvalho (Wingate & Finchley), Jonti Purdom (Wingate & Finchley).
Referee: Nigel Hickes
Assistant Referees: Andy Tooley and Mike Partridge.