Ricky Duncan's side beat Gillingham 7-2 in Youth Alliance Cup
Southend United U18s kicked off Blues Youth Day in style with a 7-2 victory over Gillingham at Boots & Laces, signalling their intent to progress in the Football League Youth Alliance Cup in the process.
With the club choosing 7th September to celebrate the work of the Academy and promote the Blues Lottery, a number of staff and players, as well as first-team manager Phil Brown, visited Boots & Laces during the first half and they will have been impressed by what they saw as goals from Jason Williams, Daniel King, Kane Farrell and Brandon Scott put Blues 4-0 up before half-time. Jack Bridge’s double sandwiched Daniel Matsuzaka’s header - and Gillingham’s two contributions - in the second period to complete the scoring.
There have now been 25 goals in the Shrimpers’ four home matches this season to date, with this impressive triumph helping Ricky Duncan’s team bounce back quickly from a 5-3 reverse against Milton Keynes Dons last week. “We’ve trained really hard this week,” he confirmed after the match. “We finished the MK Dons game well and carried that momentum forwards. We’ve not concentrated too much on the defeat, but we’ve focussed heavily on this match.”
“I think a few of the lads wanted to put things right. It was good to have Jason [Williams] back, and Jack Bridge and Freddie Gard were both able to start, which helped us, but I think it was key to have Daniel King, Charlie Barlow and Jack Bridge in the middle of the pitch today. They’re all second-years, and their experience was vital,” the Head of Youth added.
There was little to separate the sides during the opening ten minutes, but crucially Southend concentrated hard early on and were rewarded when they took the lead in the tenth minute. Bridge was brought down just outside the penalty area and set-piece specialist Farrell fancied his chances of scoring his second free-kick of the season. The full-back was denied when his curling strike bounced down off the crossbar, but Jason Williams was on hand to force the rebound into the net to make it 1-0.
Williams, restored to the youth team after being named on the substitutes’ bench for the senior squad at Wycombe Wanderers last weekend, chipped the ball up to the back post a couple of minutes later, only for Freddie Gard to slide his shot from an acute angle into the side-netting and Bridge soon saw a ferocious strike saved as the Shrimpers sought to capitalise on their superiority.
Blues’ defence did its job in the 18th minute, maintaining a good line before diverting a decent opportunity wide, allowing King to double the advantage just before the half-hour. The midfielder opened his account for the season in spectacular style, smashing an unstoppable rising shot into the top right-hand corner from fully 30 yards out.
“I’m particularly pleased for Dan,” said Duncan. “He went off in the second half last week, and I think he felt that he had a point to prove today. The goal was just the icing on the cake; he played really well, and that strike would win many Goal of the Season contests.”
Three minutes later, Southend were 3-0 up as the ‘keeper was caught out by Farrell’s looping cross, which spiralled up and gently floated towards the goal. After bouncing down off the angle of post and crossbar, the ball somehow drifted over the line as the back-pedalling custodian attempted to find his bearings under pressure from Gard.
The hosts were serene in this period of the match, and it appeared that they could score whenever they attacked. King tried his luck from 20 yards, the ‘keeper managing to push that effort around the post before Jason Williams was denied by a defender’s block from the ensuing corner.
It would not be long before Blues extended their lead still further and, after 37 minutes, Scott netted with a finish of real quality. Picking up possession by the right touchline, he cut inside before beautifully caressing the ball into the top left-hand corner with his left foot. The half would end with Ted Smith tipping a 25-yard strike onto the crossbar and Jordan Williams combining with Matsuzaka to make an important block, but there was no disputing that Southend were on top.
Just as the Shrimpers had come out fighting in the second half of their game against MK Dons last Saturday, Gillingham tried to establish a foothold in the fixture after the interval on this occasion. Once Barlow had set up Bridge for a goalbound shot in the 50th minute, it was the visitors who threatened more, temporarily, as Smith had to show good anticipation to save at the feet of a forward and then a downward header from a free-kick bounced over.
Three-quarters of the way through the game, the instrumental Bridge got his name onto the scoresheet. Harry Norman had just replaced Jordan Williams at right-back and he overlapped Scott to centre for the playmaker, who got to the ball ahead of a defender to convert. Four minutes later it was 6-0 as Farrell’s corner was lofted to the back post and Matsuzaka met it powerfully to head home.
Dan Snook was introduced and he was unlucky to see his header from another Norman cross well saved before Gillingham rallied. Southend’s clean sheet was eradicated with a quarter-of-an-hour remaining as a substitute cut in from the left to curl into the bottom right-hand corner and, sixty seconds later, Mahlon Romeo created a mirror-image to arrow in via the inside of the left-hand upright and make it 6-2.
If there had been an element of fortune about his goal, then that should not detract from Farrell’s mature display at left-back, and he drove forward from the halfway line before drilling a 30-yard effort into the side-netting in the 86th minute. That proved that Southend were hungry from more goals, and they added one more, with two minutes remaining, when Bridge collected Gard’s simple pass and struck cleanly into the net from 15 yards out.
It was the perfect conclusion to an excellent display, and Duncan was delighted with Southend’s winning start to the Youth Alliance Cup Group Four campaign: “I’m really pleased. We scored a lot of very good goals and the team did well. We play Gillingham again next week, away, in the League and we know that we mustn’t be complacent and we must make sure that we do things right, like we have today.”
Southend United U18s: Ted Smith, Jordan Williams (Harry Norman, 64), Kane Farrell, Daniel King, Sonny Coutts, Daniel Matsuzaka (Ross Johnson, 76), Brandon Scott, Charlie Barlow, Jason Williams (Daniel Snook, 69), Jack Bridge, Freddie Gard. Substitutes not used: Kojo Apenteng, Macauley Keaton.
Goals: Jason Williams (10), King (27), Farrell (30), Scott (37), Bridge (67, 88), Matsuzaka (74).
Cautioned: Gard (39, foul tackle).