Southend United U18s put in a five-star performance against Exeter City to claim their first EFL Youth Alliance Merit League One victory of the 2021/22 season.
Brian Garzon scored twice and Max Fiddes, Tayo Adedoja and Jacob Bland were also on target for the teenage Shrimpers as they bounced back from last weekend’s defeat at Gillingham to overcome the Grecians at Garon Park.
Garzon and Adedoja were amongst a five-strong contingent of second-year scholars who are currently on work experience loans to be called upon by Danny Heath, alongside skipper Jaden Crowhurst and defenders Louie Arrowsmith and Luke Reeve.
Blues had won their first four matches in the calendar year before suffering a reverse against the Gills, but they swiftly returned to their form of the early part of the year in a match switched to the 3G surface at Garon Park at short notice after persistent rainfall in south-east Essex.
Southend had started brightly, but they had been unable to test the Exeter goalkeeper by the ninth minute when playmaker Garzon was tripped as he entered the left-hand side of the penalty area. Garzon, who is currently enjoying a spell in senior football with East Thurrock United, dispatched the spot-kick to make it 1-0.
Within 60 seconds Blues could have doubled their lead as Crowhurst nodded down a left-wing cross and Fiddes saw his close-range finish repelled by the Grecians goalkeeper but, at the other end, Fin Purcell had to be alert to make a good low save of his own to his left-hand side.
With Crowhurst, who had been deployed at right-back earlier in the season but has been pushed back into midfield during his loan spell with Great Wakering Rovers, rampaging forwards, it looked like Southend might score at any time.
On 20 minutes the skipper was picked out by a Fiddes pass before unleashing a 25-yard strike that the visiting shotstopper managed to palm around the right-hand post and, from the ensuing corner, delivered by Crowhurst, Luke Reeve planted a header narrowly wide of the opposite upright.
The next flag-kick, in the 23rd minute, finally led to Southend’s second goal. A dangerous delivery from Crowhurst was nodded out as far as Garzon on the edge of the penalty area and, when his attempt was partially charged down, Fiddes was on the spot to turn home his third goal in the past six days from seven yards out.
Crowhurst himself could have netted when he met a Garzon cross on the volley at the far post, but his finish thudded into the side-netting, and Fiddes was then denied by a full-length save after picking his spot from a Cameron Brown pass.
The match had only just reached the half-hour mark when third-year scholar Brown found Adedoja with a slide-rule pass but, in common with a Crowhurst cross a minute later, his intended centre was cleared by the over-worked Exeter defence.
City had finished third in the South West Conference during the first stage of the season, with an almost identical record to Blues, and they showed that they still harboured hopes of making the long trip back to Devon with something to show for their efforts when a 32nd-minute free-kick was curled superbly into the top left-hand corner of Purcell’s net.
However, Southend were not concerned by the visitors halving the deficit and Fiddes hit the inside of the left-hand post from an offside position before Reeve flicked a header from Crowhurst’s long throw against the top of the crossbar in the closing stages of the opening period.
Within a minute of the restart, the frame of the goal had been rattled yet again as Brown slipped the ball into the path of Crowhurst and his deflected effort bounced back off the left-hand post. Brown’s follow-up was blocked by an Exeter defender and, within seconds, Fiddes had been thwarted by another outstanding save by the Grecians gloveman.
Brown also saw a driven shot deflected wide and, whilst Purcell made a comfortable save at the other end, Blues restored their two-goal advantage in the 58th minute through Adedoja, who outpaced a defender to latch onto Brown’s pass and thread the ball underneath the advancing goalkeeper.
The 3-1 lead allowed Heath to bring off Arrowsmith, Reeve and Crowhurst in quick succession, but Blues were unrelenting and one of the replacements, Bland, made an instant impression midway through the second period when he fired home from close-range to extend the advantage from Garzon’s right-wing corner.
On 74 minutes another substitute, Mo Amir, provided the assist as Blues grabbed a fifth goal. The midfielder spotted Garzon’s run to his left and his through-ball was perfect for the midfielder to smash into the net from 15 yards out.
Blues were utterly dominant and, with fresh legs on the pitch, the Exeter goal continued to come under heavy pressure. Williams fired over in the 79th minute before having a goal ruled out for handball six minutes later and, just as the referee’s whistle was being pressed against his lips to signal the end of the game, Fiddes scooped a Williams cross goalwards to force another save.
Next weekend Southend will be looking to replicate this performance when they make the reverse journey down to Devon to take on Plymouth Argyle.
Southend United U18s: Fin Purcell, Habib Bolarinwa, Louie Arrowsmith (Ibriahim Kamara, 63), Callum Burkey, Luke Reeve (Jacob Bland, 66), Patrick Droney, Cameron Brown, Jaden Crowhurst (Mo Amir, 63), Tayo Adedoja (Henry Sandat, 75), Max Fiddes, Brian Garzon (Omari Williams, 75).
Goals:Garzon (9 pen, 74), Fiddes (23), Adedoja (58), Bland (68).