Southend United U18s were held to a third successive draw as Brandon Scott’s sixth-minute strike was cancelled out a quarter-of-an-hour from the end by hosts Luton Town.
Scott’s precise 25-yard effort was just reward for Blues, who are now unbeaten in four matches after improving again on their previous performance despite falling victim to a relatively late equaliser. They will now seek to go one better and defeat Watford in their next outing.
Southend made just one change to the starting line-up that had been pegged back in stoppage time by league leaders Barnet last weekend with Harry Phillips preferred to fellow first-year scholar Norman Wabo. That switch pushed Nico Cotton up front as the sole striker on his eighteenth birthday.
Blues played up the pronounced slope during the first period, and they began the game particularly well. Skipper Ross Johnson fought hard to win possession in midfield in the fifth minute and, after advancing into the penalty area, he fizzed the ball across the six-yard box.
From that initial move, the visitors would take the lead. Southend penned Luton back in their own half and would not let them out, with Scott forcing a crucial error from an opponent just outside the centre circle. The winger then made his endeavour count by arrowing the ball into the bottom left-hand corner of the net from distance after strolling unchallenged through midfield.
The goal was indicative of a hardworking Southend display, and goalkeeper Josh Bexon was not tested until the 15th minute when he scooped up a snapshot by his bootlaces. Six minutes later, a momentary lapse by the shotstopper gifted the Hatters possession, but Daniel Matsuzaka and Freddie Gard crowded out a forward, who was pressurised into firing wide of the right-hand post.
When Blues did move the ball out from the back their play was impressive, and Scott combined with Johnson to set up George Burton at the back post midway through the first half. Burton chipped his shot over from ten yards out with Cotton screaming at him to lay the ball into his path.
Five minutes later, Burton turned provider with a beautiful chipped pass to Scott at the back post. The second-year scholar brought the ball under his control and volleyed goalwards in one motion, but this time he found the Luton goalkeeper equal to his strike.
A change in conditions, with the previously light drizzle turning to persistent rain, presented a new challenge for Blues. Luton’s tempo intensified with the precipitation, but it was still Jordan Williams who brought the first half to a close with a typical rampaging run and a drilled shot straight at the goalkeeper with team-mates waiting for a cross.
Full-back Williams was forced off within four minutes of the restart through injury, but centre-half Abdul Salami deputised well in his absence even if Bexon was called upon immediately to make a good reaction stop at his near post. Soon after the hour mark the gloveman was at it again, this time preventing a forward from scoring with a strong right hand to parry away a shot following a powerful run.
Luton continued to look the more likely side to score as the second period reached its midway point, and Bexon made a superb scrambling stop to push out a far post effort after Emmanuel Adeyeye had been robbed of the ball in the left-back berth. Wabo, who had scored three goals in his last three appearances, and schoolboy Damani Dias were brought on for Burton and Harry Phillips, who suffered a minor injury.
However, Luton’s pressure told and they finally breached the Blues back-line in the 76th minute. Bexon initially made another excellent save, diving to his right to push out a curling effort, but the ball dropped to waiting attacking player, who rifled a shot gleefully into the back of the net.
It was a cruel blow for the visitors, who had battled so manfully to protect their single goal advantage, but they showed little sign of disappointment as they ended the match strongly and could even have snatched a winner in the closing stages.
Johnson sliced an effort wide from the edge of the penalty area after good work by Gard and Scott in the 83rd minute and, even in stoppage time, Southend attacked with Sonny Coutts meeting a Cotton free-kick at the far post, but the ball drifted wide and Blues had to be satisfied with a point.
Southend United U18s: Josh Bexon, Jordan Williams (Abdul Salami, 49), Emmanuel Adeyeye, Freddie Gard, Sonny Coutts, Daniel Matsuzaka, Brandon Scott, Ross Johnson, Nico Cotton, Harry Phillips (Damani Dias, 71), George Burton (Norman Wabo, 63)
Substitutes not used: James Macree, Ryan Bushnell.