Southend United U18s moved to the top of the EFL Youth Alliance Merit League One table with a 3-1 victory over Northampton Town on Saturday.
In a match that contained four penalties, O’Shane Stewart and Matt Rush both converted from twelve yards for the teenage Shrimpers whilst Haydn Price scored one and missed one for the visitors. Price’s skied spot-kick proved crucial to the final result as Rush stabbed home from close range to secure the three points for Dave Huzzey’s side.
Huzzey, who had spent most of the week assisting Academy Manager Ricky Duncan and U23s coach Kevin Maher with the first-team, made one enforced change to the line-up that had drawn 2-2 away to Yeovil Town as Miles Mitchell-Nelson was not deemed fit enough to start and Ahmet Biler stepped into the defence.
Blues made a tentative start against the South East Conference champions, but Rush was always a willing runner and he drew a foul from Jay Williams on the edge of the penalty area in the eighth minute. Osimeh stepped up by curled the dead ball wide of the right-hand post. At the opposite end Seaden easily gathered along-range Price attempt after a quarter-of-an-hour, and it was Blues that took the lead in the 19th minute.
A lofted pass over the top of the Northampton back-line invited Rush to chase, and he was brought down as he tried to seize upon the hesitation between Williams and goalkeeper Lewi Patching. The referee pointed to the spot and, after Sam Knock’s successful twelve-yarder last weekend, this time Stewart stepped up to drive home the penalty.
Southend immediately grew in confidence and began to retain possession, with Stewart looking classy on the ball in midfield. However, they had to be alert in the 26th minute when Jacob Ballinger made progress down the Cobblers left-hand side and Knock had to step in to win the ball superbly.
Having starved their opponents of a sight of goal, Blues doubled their advantage on the half-hour mark. Again a ball over the top turned the visiting defence around and Rush chased it down, drawing a foul from Williams as he entered the penalty area. Rush brushed himself down to stroke home the spot-kick and score for the first time since returning from his work experience loan at Great Wakering Rovers.
With a two-goal cushion, Southend appeared comfortable, but the Cobblers halved their deficit six minutes before the break. Michael Harding teased a foul from Reiss Chandler on the left-hand edge of the penalty area and Price slammed the penalty into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
In a match of few chances, Freddy Eastwood smashed narrowly over at the start of the second half before Tom Scott swept a Lewis Gilbert centre with for Northampton. There was also a blow for Blues when Stewart was forced off with a head injury, although that gave schoolboy Oli Coker another opportunity to impress in his place.
Osimeh made a crucial intervention to cut out a dangerous left-wing cross just before the hour mark before another injury inconvenienced the Shrimpers. Knock, who had been limping for some time, finally succumbed and Mitchell-Nelson partnered Osimeh at centre-half.
The second-year scholar’s first contribution was a negative one as he brought down Harding as he cut inside from the left flank. The referee awarded a fourth penalty of the match, but on this occasion Price couldn’t keep the spot-kick down and Southend received a let-off.
With Price also skewing wide from the edge of the ‘D’ a couple of minutes earlier, it was just the reprieve Blues needed and they didn’t look back from that moment. With a quarter-of-an-hour remaining Chandler combined well with Terrell Egbri on the right and the latter crossed towards Rush, but substitute Eric Aneyan was positioned well to nod clear.
Aneyan then managed to block a fierce Eastwood strike on the edge of the penalty area before the first-year scholar latched onto Rush’s pass and fired against the left-hand upright. Eastwood attempted to convert the rebound, but Patching scrambled across his goal-line to save.
The pressure told with six minutes remaining as Rush scored his second goal of the game. Again Williams committed a foul - this time outside the area on Egbri - and Eastwood’s free-kick was only cleared as far as Coker 20 yards out. The midfielder fired goalwards and, although Patching managed to push out his shot, Rush was on hand to slot home the rebound.
Eastwood sent an acrobatic overhead bicycle kick wide in stoppage time, and Egbri saw a well-struck attempt palmed away by Patching, but Blues had done enough to rise to the top of the table with four games remaining. The next three games are against the teams directly below Southend in the table, beginning with Swindon Town away this Saturday.
Southend United U18s: Harry Seaden, Reiss Chandler, Ahmet Biler, Sam Brogan, Sam Knock (Miles Mitchell-Nelson 62), Ide Osimeh, Terrell Egbri, O’Shane Stewart (Oli Coker, 55), Matt Rush, Freddy Eastwood, Bobby Unwin (Issa Mpenga, 86). Substitutes not used: Callum Taylor, Benas Vaivada.
Goals: Stewart (19 pen), Rush (30 pen, 84).