Essex Under 18s’ South-East Counties Championship campaign got off to a frustrating start as Hertfordshire edged a tight contest by a single first-half goal at Colney Heath FC.
It was a much-changed Essex side from the FA County Youth Cup wins over the hosts Hertfordshire and Guernsey as boss Graham Hall used player unavailability to look at more players to push for places ahead of a big national cup last 16 tie in Manchester in early December.
Perhaps as a result of the changes, the game was slow to come to life, but Essex goalkeeper Josh Harrison kept the scores level early on as he made a good double-save to keep out Lawrence Ajong and then Ryan Emmanuel.
As the clash opened up a little, Essex debutant Adetokumbo Sotaynbo fired just over the top. But, with 35 minutes played, Hertfordshire took the lead. Lewis Wicker capitalised on a defensive slip and lobbed in a fine, angled finish from the edge of the area.
A good Essex move on the perimeter of the 18-yard box then saw skipper Callum Fitzer’s low, deflected shot well held by home custodian Will Skingley. In the last kick of the first half, Essex’s Obi Molefi curled wide from 20 yards.
While Essex looked for a route back into the contest, second-half chances were hard to come by. Sotaynbo did look to have been felled in the penalty area, but he recovered well to get a shot away along the floor which beat Skingley, but it was diverted wide for a corner which came inches from bringing an own goal at the near post.
In the final throes of the game, Essex’s Fitzer showed good feet to find space, but saw his driven, deflected strike just over the top as the visitors’ hopes of a leveller were thwarted.
Essex: Josh Harrison (Concord Rangers/Southend Manor), Torgbor Torto-Tetteh (AFC Hornchurch), Tom Puleston (Brentwood Town), Robinson Wokoma (Grays Athletic), Tom Duffy (Billericay Town), Louis Young (Concord Rangers), Joe Debell (Coggeshall United), Callum Fitzer (Bowers & Pitsea), Adetokumbo Sotaynbo (Barkingside), Obi Molefi (AFC Hornchurch), Jimi Reynolds (Davenant School). Subs (repeated): Ondrey Orgema (Brentwood Town), Tyler Cavener (Billericay Town/Lakeside), Evan Collard (Colchester VI Form College).
Hertfordshire: Will Skingley (Real Stortford), Connor Le Plain (Real Stortford), Marcus Cesvette (Knights Templar School), Reece Crowther (Ware), Jamie Overton (Garston Boys), Mitchell Stanger (Garston Boys), Jack Walker (Bishop’s Stortford), Max Jessop (Hatfield Town), Ryan Emmanuel (West Herts College), Louis Benson (Stevenage Borough Community), Lewis Wicker (Bishop’s Stortford). Sub (repeated): Harry Hunter (Cockfosters), Lucas Preston (Leverstock Green), Lawrence Ajong (Ware), Joel Gubb (Real Stortford).
Referee: Dan Norris (Sawbridgeworth).
Assistant Referees: Olivia Syson (London Colney) and Callan Deradour (St Albans).