Southend United U18's completed their preparations for the 2014/15 season with an impressive 2-2 draw away to Charlton Athletic on Wednesday afternoon.
The contest at Charlton’s Sparrows Lane training complex came just 24 hours after a goalless draw at Colchester United for Ricky Duncan’s charges, and they showed impressive character to twice fight back from going behind to draw with their Category Two Academy opponents.
All four goals came during the second period with first-year scholar Norman Wabo the first player to haul Blues level before schoolboy, and Scotland U16 international, Jordan Lawrence-Gabriel seized on a rebound to ensure the visitors left south-east London with a share of the spoils.
“I was really pleased with the performance,” declared Academy Manager Duncan. “We started the match with four schoolboys and only two second-year scholars on the pitch. For the opening 30-35 minutes we were on top and, although it was 0-0 at half-time, I felt that we had the better chances.”
“It was a little bit disappointing that we didn’t finish any of those chances and, after we made six substitutions at once, we soon found ourselves 1-0 down. However, we showed a bit of guile and Norman tucked home a great finish after a good move.”
“We found ourselves behind again a little later on when Charlton scored from a free-kick, and in some ways that goal could have been avoided but, towards the end, Jordan scored a tap-in after Harry Norman’s fierce shot was parried into his path and he lifted the loose ball into the top left-hand corner,” he reported.
Lawrence-Gabriel was afforded his opportunity with Jordan Williams again involved in the senior squad, and Duncan thought that all four schoolboys acquitted themselves in the right manner: “Joe McKenzie, Cameron Johns and Tom Clifford, who played at left-back, all played really well,” he said.
“I thought our best player today was Harry Phillips. He was excellent in midfield during the first half with his passing and movement, whilst Ross Johnson also put in a strong performance.”
Duncan also confirmed that Johnson would captain the side this year: “Ross is skipper for the season, with Sonny Coutts as his vice-captain. Pre-season has been fantastic, and that includes the behaviour and discipline off the field. That begins with those two as the leaders as well as three or four senior players.”
Blues were unbeaten in their final five pre-season matches, a sequence that included a victory and two draws inside five days away to Category Two opponents. “To not lose any of those three matches makes me really pleased,” Duncan confirmed.
“It’s been a very good pre-season. In fact, I think it has been one of the best pre-seasons we’ve ever had at the club. These results have shown us where we are with our performances, and it’s nice to hear the coaches at the clubs we’ve played say that we should be competing at Category Two.”
“To come through these two matches inside 24 hours with such good performances sets us up well. We play Gillingham and then Stevenage in our first two matches of the new League season, and they will both be tough games. Those clubs have good coaching staff in place and we’ve got to approach them in the right way. I’m sure we will.”