Midfielder Sam Brogan was delighted to help Southend United U18s return to winning ways with a 2-1 Boots & Laces success against Stevenage.
The first-year scholar, who was described by youth team coach Dave Huzzey as the “unsung hero” of the side, controlled the midfield battle against a Stevenage side that had triumphed twice against Blues in the EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference, allowing Bobby Unwin and O’Shane Stewart to score the goals in an impressive victory.
“I’m very proud,” he said. “It was a great team performance and we got the result we deserved. Particularly in the first half it was very difficult in the conditions. A lot of people think it is more difficult to play against the wind, but playing with the wind it’s very difficult to play across and I thought we did very well to deal with the conditions. I knew we were on top and if we kept playing the way we were we would eventually score.”
“I thought I had a very good game,” Brogan continued, insisting that he is not concerned that he hasn’t yet opened his goalscoring tally for the Shrimpers. “I moved the ball well and did my job on behalf of the team and helped us to get the overall result. My role is to win the ball back and move the ball and let other people play.”
“It’s not always about the glory, it’s about the performance and, if I do my job well, I know others will score the goals and that’ll lead to the result we want. I’ve just got to keep working hard and doing what I do. I think every player wants to score, but it’ll happen when it happens. I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing and I’ll score.”
“When I was younger, before I was signed, I used to play a little bit further forwards and used to score a few, but since I’ve been at Southend I’ve had a different role. It’s something I wanted to do. I enjoyed playing further forwards, but I feel my best position is number 4 and I’ve got to play there for the team,” he added.
Blues had the benefit of playing with the wind during the first half, and Huzzey was also able to call upon the services of forward Matt Rush, who has recently spent time on loan at Great Wakering Rovers. Rush was involved in the first attack in the seventh minute, sliding the ball through to Unwin, who cut it back to Freddy Eastwood. The youngster’s strike was turned around the post by Payne.
From the resultant corner Blues hit the woodwork as Eastwood’s delivery looped over Payne and against the top of the crossbar. With the wind gusting, another Eastwood flag-kick after a quarter-of-an-hour almost caught Payne out, the ball swirling over the shotstopper and hitting Owen Cochrane on the back on the goal-line.
Unwin was causing plenty problems for the visitors down the left-hand side, and his pass to Stewart in the 20th minute led to a curling shot over the crossbar from 25 yards out. There was an anxious moment for Blues when Billy Batch failed to get any purchase on a left-wing centre at the other end, but Miles Mitchell-Nelson was soon planting a header wide at the opposite end.
Southend’s formation was flexible and Egbri, who started on the right-hand side, rampaged down the middle of the field in the 27th minute. The winger skipped one challenge but was apprehended by Sam Okoye as he sought to enter the penalty area.
Although he had struggled to cope with the blustery conditions, there was no doubting Stevenage custodian Payne’s shotstopping capabilities, and he produced another fine stop in the 32nd minute to palm away a fierce Rush attempt. Unfortunately that was his final contribution to the game as he sustained an injury and had to be replaced by Jack Berman.
Marcus Gouldbourne failed to control a far post volley for Stevenage shortly afterwards, and the half ended with Blues back on top as Eastwood and Egbri combined to set up Stewart. His cross picked out Rush, but he nodded wide with just Berman to beat.
Rush started the second half by volleying Unwin’s pass into Berman’s gloves, but Blues would take just four minutes after the interval to score the go-ahead goal. Rush was involved in the build-up, holding the ball up before releasing Egbri down the right. He centred for Unwin, who side-footed home his third goal in the Merit League campaign to date.
Egbri smashed over seconds later but, following Berman’s impressive stop with his legs to deny Rush, Southend doubled their advantage in the 55th minute. Ide Osimeh’s corner was cleared to the edge of the penalty area, where Stewart was perfectly-placed to steer his volley into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
Despite having to play into the strong wind, Blues were turning on the style and Eastwood darted in from the left flank before fizzing a shot past the angle of post and crossbar. Berman then repelled Sam Knock’s powerful header to keep Stevenage in contention with a little under half-an-hour to play.
The away team suddenly gained some confidence and Dillon Krasniqi got the better of Osimeh, only to find Knock covering to clear. Then, with three-quarters of the match gone, Seaden was drawn into action for the first time as he parried out an effort from substitute Alfie Williams.
Just a minute later Stevenage halved their deficit through Bunja Conteh. The forward was brought down 25 yards out from goal, but he brushed himself down before arcing the ball beautifully around the defensive wall and into the top left-hand corner of the net.
Eastwood looked for an immediate restoration of the two-goal cushion, only to drag his effort wide, and Southend steeled themselves for more Stevenage pressure. Ben Dabbs stepped into block Okoye’s path as he sought to counter-attack quickly from a Southend corner in the 75th minute, and he later combined with Mitchell-Nelson to thwart Conteh.
In-between Egbri had an opportunity to settle the destination of the points when substitute Oli Coker found Rush and he set up the wide-man for a shot wide. In stoppage time there was time for an impressive intervention from Brogan, who cut out a Krasniqi cross, and Blues held on to climb to the summit of the Merit League One table alongside Northampton Town and Oxford United.
Brogan was pleased to put the defeat to Luton behind Blues, and is now looking ahead: “Last week’s game was very disappointing and we’ve had a tough week and worked very hard. We were well motivated for the game and getting the result we wanted has boosted our confidence going into the game at Yeovil next week. The team is buzzing to get away. It’s a great experience and, with the right mentality, we’ll go there and win again.”
Southend United U18s: Harry Seaden, Ben Dabbs, Ide Osimeh, Sam Brogan, Sam Knock, Miles Mitchell-Nelson, Terrell Egbri, O’Shane Stewart (Oli Coker, 80), Matt Rush (Issa Mpenga, 90+2), Freddy Eastwood, Bobby Unwin (Benas Vaivada, 72). Substitutes not used: Callum Taylor, Reiss Chandler.
Goals: Unwin (49), Stewart (55).