An extremely inexperienced Southend United U18s side recorded their first victory of 2014/15 as they overcame Leyton Orient U18s 2-1 at Boots & Laces.Schoolboy Cameron John was handed his first competitive start - ultimately scoring the decisive goal - whilst fellow U16s Damani Dias, Tom Clifford and Elvis Bwomono also featured during the second period against the O’s. Joe Bedford’s inaugural goal for the club had early been cancelled out by Sandro Semedo during the first period.
With no less than four second-year scholars missing, Southend’s main area of experience was at the back, where Jordan Williams, Daniel Matsuzaka and Emmanuel Adeyeye lined up with captain Ross Johnson just in front of them. Josh Bexon was restored in goal whilst there were starts further forwards for first-years Renei Batlokwa, Joe Bedford, George Burton and Harry Phillips, plus John.
The early stages of the fixture took place in a congested midfield, with neither team able to penetrate the opposition defence. Orient’s back-line, in particular, held a high line which made it difficult for Southend’s forwards to exercise goalkeeper Ben Card.
However, that back four was breached in the tenth minute when Bedford made a break from deep. He received the ball just inside the Orient half and found himself in the clear, advancing to the edge of the penalty area before coolly finishing past Card to open his account for Blues.
The lead lasted just two minutes. The visitors showed good persistence to score as Shola Oladipo was tackled on the edge of the ‘D’ and the ball ran loose from the challenge to Semedo, who thrashed the ball into the top left-hand corner of Bexon’s goal to make it 1-1.
Blues tried to play their brand of stylish football, but they found themselves ever more frustrated by the offside trap and instead the few chances that were created during the remainder of the opening period fell to the O’s. Bexon was swiftly off his goal-line in the 32nd minute to grab Freddy Moncur’s through-ball ahead of Victor Adeboyejo and, sixty seconds later, Oladipo was wasteful as he skied Harry Kane’s left-wing cross.
The match broke down into a scrap as the half drew to a close with neither team keeping hold of possession long enough to test the custodians. When it did appear likely that Orient’s Adeboyejo’s would fire goalwards from close range in the penultimate minute of the half, Abdul Salami got across superbly to tackle him.
Dias replaced Batlokwa at half-time, and Southend attacked the second period with renewed purpose. They were rewarded in the 56th minute when Dias was fouled around thirty yards from the Orient goal. Phillips delivered an inswinging free-kick that was met by Johnat the near post and he glanced the ball beyond a stranded Card to restore Blues’ lead.
John was replaced by Clifford, who made his own U18s debut at the end of last season at Watford, but Southend stuck to their task. Bexon had an anxious moment on the hour mark when he allowed Moncur’s free-kick to bounce in front of him, but he managed to turn the ball to safety and there was little danger from Montel Agyemang’s driven strike after Semedo had wriggled through midfield.
Salami made another excellent challenge to divert Moncur’s effort into the side-netting as the game entered the final quarter-of-an-hour, but Southend defended resolutely and Bwomono replaced Phillips to give another youngster a taste of U18s football. A series of corners and set-pieces were cleared, and Johnson also nodded out a long throw commandingly.
The skipper even found time to lead a charge on the Orient goal in the final minute, but Burton’s centre was gathered comfortably by Card. After four minutes of stoppage time, Bexon held onto one last free-kick that had been pumped into the penalty area and Southend were able to celebrate a well-earned win. With more schoolboys in the form of Jack Sims, Joe Mackenzie and Kye Mitchell also involved in the matchday experience, it was a very positive day for the club.
Southend United U18s: Josh Bexon, Jordan Williams, Emmanuel Adeyeye, Ross Johnson, Daniel Matsuzaka, Abdul Salami, Renei Batlokwa (Damani Dias, 46), Joe Bedford, George Burton, Harry Phillips (Elvis Bwomono, 78), Cameron John (Tom Clifford, 64).Substitutes not used: Jack Sims, Joe Mackenzie.
Goals: Bedford (10), John (56).
Cautioned: Clifford (73, foul tackle).