Blues' youngsters pick up 5-1 win...Southend United U18s continued their fine pre-season form with a 5-1 victory over LTB Sussex Academy at Boots & Laces.
First-half goals from Freddie Gard, George Burton and Jason Williams gave Blues a 3-0 advantage at the break, and further efforts from the impressive Renei Batlokwa and Nico Cotton, the latter from the penalty spot, saw off the visiting outfit, who have been brought together by former Shrimper Mark Beard.
First-year professional Williams, as well as senior striking colleague Ellis Brown, was given 45 minutes of game-time with the U18s and it was his powerful front-running which caused LTB problems in the opening stages. He had already tussled with a defender in the penalty area by the time that his well-struck attempt from the edge of the box was spilled into the path of Gard, who chipped the goalkeeper to make it 1-0 in the ninth minute.
LTB responded by keeping the ball well, and James Macree had to move swiftly off his line to claim a hanging free-kick above his head before scooping up a driven right-wing centre to maintain Southend’s advantage. In the 17th minute, his efforts were rewarded with Blues’ second goal when Brandon Scott darted through the midfield and threaded the ball through to Burton, who guided the ball into the net via the inside of the left-hand upright.
Six minutes later, Southend led 3-0. Again the goal came on the counter-attack as Harry Norman brought the ball skilfully out of defence and looked up to see Williams making ground to his left. The midfielder picked out his team-mate’s run and Williams made no mistake with an impressive strike after cutting back onto his right foot.
Whilst the scoreline looked good, Blues were not in complete control of the fixture and a right-wing attack in the 26th minute led to a low shot being curled wide of the near post. Within minutes, Macree made a comfortable save to maintain his clean sheet and there was no further action before the interval as Southend worked on keeping possession.
Blues made seven substitutions at half-time, and the changes almost made an immediate difference as Brown broke down the right in the 48th minute and crossed for Norman Wabo, who swept his shot over the crossbar from close range. Brown then had a chance to score himself when Daniel Matsuzaka nodded down Ross Johnson’s high ball, but the former Charlton Athletic youngster saw his half-volley acrobatically turned over.
The LTB Academy goalkeeper produced more heroics just before the hour mark when he got his fingertips to Batlokwa’s skidding strike following good work from Wabo on the right touchline. But, despite their renewed purpose, Southend saw their lead reduced when Matsuzaka blocked a shot into an attacker’s path and Sonny Coutts couldn’t do enough to prevent the forward from stroking the ball into the bottom left-hand corner.
Nico Cotton was introduced into the action immediately for his first run-out of pre-season, and he was soon involved in the play, latching onto a Batlokwa pass before seeing the goalkeeper push the ball around the post. He had another opening just moments later when Harry Phillips rolled the ball into his path, and he was denied again by the ‘keeper, who grabbed hold of a stinging shot at the second attempt.
In between, Emmanuel Adeyeye pulled the ball back for Brown, who sliced a shot across the face of goal, but Southend’s pressure finally told in the 78th minute with the goal of the game from Batlokwa, who held off the attentions of a defender to thump the ball into the net from 15 yards out with his left foot.
Five minutes later the midfielder looked set to repeat the feat after racing onto Brown’s through-ball, but the goalkeeper brought him down and that gave Cotton the opportunity to mark his comeback with a goal from the penalty spot as his strike emphatically beat the goalkeeper. The match ended with Brown sliding the ball past the far post after fine work from Norman, Phillips and Joe Bedford, although by then the result had already been assured.
Academy Manager Ricky Duncan was very happy with the performance: “I thought we were superb again today,” he declared. “This pre-season campaign is going very well. Our midfield, especially, has been superb and we’re going to have some very tough decisions to make once the season starts as to who we play. I thought Renei Batlokwa, in particular, was exceptional today.”
Southend United U18s: James Macree (Josh Bexon, 46), Jordan Williams (Emmanuel Adeyeye, 73), Adeyeye (Renei Batlokwa, 46), Harry Norman (Joe Bedford, 46), Abdul Salami (Sonny Coutts, 46), Daniel Matsuzaka, Brandon Scott (Norman Wabo, 46), Ross Johnson (Norman, 73), Jason Williams (Ellis Brown, 46), Freddie Gard (Nico Cotton, 68), George Burton (Harry Phillips, 46).
Goals: Gard (9), Burton (17), Jason Williams (23), Batlokwa (78), Cotton (83, pen).