Southend United Under-18s eased themselves back into action as they defeated Middlesex County Football League side FFC Haringey 4-1 in a pre-season friendly at Wadham Lodge.
Head of Youth Ricky Duncan took his charges deep into metropolitan Essex for their opening encounter of the campaign, fulfilling a fixture comprising three thirty-minute periods which was arranged after Haringey's manager recommended Shamir Mullings to the Blues last term.
"We worked all week on preparing for this fixture as we always like to have a game nice and early in pre-season," revealed Duncan. "We came back to training on Monday, and you could see today the things that we have been working on. The boys have taken that all on board and I thought we played well throughout all three thirds. Haringey have some good players and they gave us a good game, especially early on."
Blues utilised 20 players including third-years Ryan Auger, Fope Coker, Mullings and Jack Paxman as well as the majority of the club's scholars for the 2012/3 campaign ahead. It took a little time for the visitors to get used to the ball at their feet, but a good interchange between Marlon Agyakwa and Seedy Njie ended with Paxman chipping narrowly over in the 14th minute.
Mitchell Pinnock saw a fierce shot charged down shortly afterwards, and he was presented with an even better opportunity in the 26th minute when defender Jordan Williams slipped on the edge of the box. Unfortunately, Pinnock could only guide his strike across the face of goal. The opening half-hour concluded with Njie being thwarted by 'keeper Patrick Tomsu, who first scooted out when the forward failed to anticipate Paxman's pass and then pulled off a fine save from a 20-yard snapshot.
Tomsu was a principal figure during the second period, making his first save of the half-hour with his legs to deny Jack Bridge two minutes after the restart. The shotstopper then kept out Pinnock's close-range attempt following fine work from winger Michael Ademuliyi before pushing over a Harry Jeffrey long-range strike.
Ademuliyi was a potent threat, and a strong shot was pushed around the post by Tomsu, who then turned his attentions to keeping out a 25-yard Pinnock effort. Even when the custodian was beaten, the woodwork came to his rescue as Ademuliyi delivered a thunderous strike that smacked the underside of the crossbar and bounced out. Typically, Tomsu smothered Pinnock's follow-up.
Vice-captain Josh Banton timed a challenge well to stop Larry Asare from racing clear with ten minutes of the period remaining, but Blues ended strongly and eventually took the lead in the 58th minute. Ademuliyi had seen another rasping strike grasped by Tomsu, but he was finally beaten when Bridge slid Pinnock clear on the left and the former Arsenal youngster lifted the ball over the advancing goalkeeper into the net.
On the hour mark, Mullings delivered a hammer blow to the hosts' aspirations of getting back into the game. There appeared to be little danger when the towering front man picked the ball up on the right-hand side, but he drilled a clinical strike from 25 yards into the bottom left-hand corner of the net to make it 2-0.
In between the two goals, Asare had drawn a fine low save from Ted Smith in the Southend goal, and the one-time Goffs Oak youngster went even closer to scoring in stoppage time when another skimming shot struck the base of the left-hand upright.
Tomsu kept out a Pinnock attempt late on, but it was the contribution of new first-year scholar Ademuliyi that Duncan singled out: "Michael has fantastic pace. He gets describes as 'a little dot' but he possesses great ball protection and he played well against some older players. It goes to show, if you're good enough, you're tall enough, and at times it looked like he was having a one-on-one training exercise with the goalkeeper."
Haringey scored the goal that their performance deserved shortly after Tomsu had been knocked off his feet by the ferocity of a Mullings shot in the 72nd minute. Blues' trialist goalkeeper made a good initial save to push out Craig Johnson's effort, but he was unable to recover quickly enough to stop the forward sweeping in the follow-up.
Paul Desai nodded a Johnson corner into the side-netting, but there was to be a grandstand conclusion to the match for the Blues at the opposite end as Fope Coker hammered a strike into the top right-hand corner from the edge of the 'D'. "Fope has spent a long time out injured and he's bulked up physically. He was a wide man when he came to us, so playing in the centre is a change of position and style caused by that injury. He scored a great goal, and his passing range was on show when he set up Jack's."
The final gloss arrived in the last minute. Coker's through-ball prized open the Haringey defence and the stylish Bridge coolly steered the ball beyond Tomsu to give the team a 4-1 win ahead of their week-long trip to the Netherlands: "It was a pleasing day all round. Once we got the first, we were more comfortable and we played some good stuff. We'll have to tighten up a bit defensively, but that's what pre-season is all about," remarked Duncan.
Southend United U18s: First third: Ted Smith, Ryan Auger, Robert Hyams, Jack Edwards, Josh Banton, Mitchell Pinnock, Marlon Agyakwa, Seedy Njie, Kamal Creary, Jack Paxman, Aaron Tatham.
Second third: Smith, Banton, Charlie Barlow, Michael Ademuliyi, Pinnock, Shamir Mullings, Jack Bridge, Harry Jeffrey, Fope Coker, Kane Farrell, Tatham.
Third third: Trialist, Auger (Coker 77), Hyams (Bridge 87), Edwards (Ademuliyi 77), Banton (Barlow 87), Payne, Mullings (Agyakwa 77), Dan King, Farrell (Creary 77), Paxman (Njie 77), Tatham (Edwards 83).