Southend United under-18's win 4-1 at Colchester United under-18's
Southend United U18s produced one of their most impressive displays of the season to defeat table-topping Essex rivals Colchester United 4-1 at Florence Park.
From the moment that Freddie Gard gave Blues the lead in the 27th minute the visitors seemed destined to record a third consecutive victory, and a superb brace from Kane Farrell either side of the half-time break, plus a late strike from winger Brandon Scott, ensured that Sammy Szmodics’ fine finish midway through the second period was rendered merely a consolation for the U’s.
After watching Southend lose a Youth Alliance Cup tie 3-1 at the same venue in September, Academy Manager Ricky Duncan was delighted to turn the tables in the second Essex derby of the season: “In the first ten minutes I felt Colchester were on top of us a little bit, and one of the things we had said in the dressing room prior to the game was that we needed to compete, and that’s what we did.”
“We stayed in there and fought our way through those first ten minutes and then I thought we took a good grip of the game. After that, we started to pass it a bit better than they were, moving the ball up the pitch, and the confidence started coming into the side. The way we’ve been scoring goals lately, you could see that we were going to go and get one, and away we went,” he declared.
Duncan took charge of the side, assisted by former club captain Kevin Maher, with youth team coach Dave Huzzey suffering from illness, and he named three U16s in the starting line-up. Goalkeeper Josh Bexton retained his position having kept a clean sheet against Luton Town, Sonny Coutts started in place of Daniel Matsuzaka, who still has stitches in a cheek wound sustained against the Hatters, and midfielder Harry Phillips made his debut in the centre of the park.
Bexton was forced into an early save when Jack Curtis diverted a fourth-minute Dion Sembie-Ferris cross goalwards, and the hosts continued to threaten in the opening stages as Tom Lapslie half-volleyed a Cameron James cross wide at the back post and Callum Harrison crashed a 25-yard effort off target after a quarter-of-an-hour.
However, Southend had repelled the initial danger and began to grow in belief, with a Jordan Williams cross cut out before it could reach Gard, who started up front in place of Jason Williams owing to the striker’s trip to Bristol Rovers with the first team the previous evening. Gard, Scott and captain Jack Bridge were all involved in another fluid move in the 19th minute before the stand-in skipper was fouled on the edge of the penalty area and saw his own set-piece deflected over.
Blues could have taken the lead at the mid-point of the first half when Bridge robbed Jamie Stephens of possession in centre-circle. He galloped clear of the defence and stabbed the ball beyond Bransgrove before going to ground in the penalty area, only for the referee to deem that he had been guilty of simulation and produce a yellow card instead of awarding a spot-kick.
Instead, Southend had to wait another five minutes before edging in front. Initially, a wonderful move involving Harry Norman, Scott and Jordan Williams ended with Scott picking out Phillips in the penalty area, but his shot was blocked by the legs of goalie James Bransgrove. Thwarted in his attempts to net a debut goal, the midfield technician settled for an assist, weighting a flicked pass perfectly for Gard to get in behind the defence and guide the ball into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
“The first goal was good. I thought Harry Phillips did well; maybe he has got to put goals into his game, but he’ll always look for a pass and it was a great little flick-on from him to toe the ball around the corner and Freddie got in and finished it,” reported Duncan, who watched Bransgrove brilliantly push out a fierce Scott attempt on the half-hour mark and Phillips fire narrowly over after finding space to receive Bridge’s pass.
On 34 minutes, Blues doubled their lead in what has become trademark fashion. Bridge was brought down 25 yards from goal and just to the right of centre. Given the positioning, there was only one candidate to take the free-kick, and full-back Farrell duly obliged with a stunning set-piece, curling the ball past the left-hand edge of the ball and swinging it into the top right-hand corner with Bransgrove grasping at thin air as it moved ever further away from his clutches.
Farrell’s defensive work was impressive as well as he timed a chopped challenge on Sembie-Ferris to perfection inside the penalty area just before the break, and custodian Bexton ensured that there were no first-half blemishes with a good stop at his near post from substitute George Brown.
Blues came out after the interval intent on adding to their tally and, once Szmodics had skewed an effort wide, Farrell was able to contribute his sixth goal of the campaign in the 56th minute. Gard started the move, finding Bridge, who shifted the ball left to the full-back. He controlled the ball with an excellent first touch before lining up an unstoppable 25-yard strike that flew into the top right-hand corner. Bransgrove did well to get a fingertip onto the ball, but he couldn’t prevent it reaching its intended destination.
“The free-kick from Kane was a helluva strike into the top corner. We said at half-time that Colchester would come at us, and they went a little bit more direct in the second half, but again we stood up to the early pressure and Kane comes up with an absolute belter into the top corner with his left foot, which I felt killed them,” Duncan opined.
There were still 34 minutes to play, but Blues had proved against Leyton Orient that defensively they were stronger now than the two 3-3 draws from winning positions against Portsmouth and Crawley Town suggested, and there was an air of confidence about the away side even if Bexton had to stoop to gather a Brown header just before the hour mark.
Norman could have opened his goalscoring account for the U18s, but his dipping 25-yard shot marginally cleared the crossbar and he then turned provider for sub Jason Williams, who rounded Bransgrove only to run out of pitch. At the other end, Colchester did reduce the arrears on 67 minutes when Szmodics was fed the ball from a left-wing throw-in and stepped inside to deliver his own outstanding 25-yard effort into the roof of the net.
U’s captain Frankie Kent climbed at the far post to meet a Curtis free-kick, nodding wide, but Southend made sure of their triumph nine minutes from the end when Jason Williams chased down a long ball and forced Bransgrove to retreat back to his goal-line. The powerful striker attempted to score from an acute angle but, when his attempt was blocked, Scott was on hand to stroke home his eighth goal of the season.
Blues had now netted four times against a team that had kept clean sheets in their previous four fixtures, and Scott could have added another late on when his stinging shot was well held by Bransgrove. Bexton enhanced his burgeoning reputation as a shotstopper by keeping out a low Curtis shot, saving well from Szmodics and then turning Tyler Brampton’s injury-time effort around the post, but the Shrimpers had already done more than enough to claim victory by that point, even introducing another U16 player, Athan Smith, for his debut.
“I was pleased with the individuals but I felt, as a team performance, they did everything we asked of them and every week we seem to be getting better and better and better. It’s three wins in a row now, and five unbeaten, and that’s credit to the players considering the run that they were on. To turn that around, that’s all their hard work on the training ground, and they’ve been really positive,” beamed Duncan.
Southend United U18s: Josh Bexton, Jordan Williams, Kane Farrell, Harry Norman, Josh Banton, Sonny Coutts, Brandon Scott (Athan Smith, 87), Harry Phillips (Jason Williams, 51), Freddie Gard, Jack Bridge, Nico Cotton (Emmanuel Adeyeye, 70). Substitutes not used: Kojo Apenteng, Keith Orenuga.
Goals: Gard (27), Farrell (34, 56), Scott (81).
Cautioned: Bridge (22, simulation), Bexton (67, delaying the restart of play), Jordan Williams (86, delaying the restart of play).