Southend United U18s returned to winning ways with a 4-1 success against Cambridge United at Boots & Laces as Blues ran in four second half goals to overturn an interval deficit.
The hosts trailed at the break after Cambridge took the lead in the final minute of the first half, but Norman Wabo scored his first competitive goal for the U18s to equalise nine minutes into the second period and further efforts from Brandon Scott, Nico Cotton and vice-captain Sonny Coutts helped Southend to ease clear of their opponents.
Youth team coach Dave Huzzey was pleased to be able to welcome back midfielders Macauley Keating and Freddie Gard after their recent injuries and they replaced first-year scholars Joe Bedford and George Burton in the starting line-up. Goalkeeper Josh Bexon was named between the sticks in a third change from the team that lost narrowly to Milton Keynes Dons.
Blues were forced to be patient in the opening stages as Cambridge proved difficult to break down. The first opportunity did not arrive until the seventh minute, when Scott set up Cotton for a deflected strike into the side-netting, whilst five minutes later skipper Ross Johnson saw his stinging shot tipped over the crossbar after good work from Scott on the left flank.
Jordan Williams began to move forward with more freedom and, in the 13th minute, his cross was met by Dan Matsuzaka, who nodded into the path of Coutts. Unfortunately the centre-half could only glance his aerial effort wide of the right-hand upright, and instead Southend had to work well defensively to block a free-kick and the follow-up effort at the other end to maintain the goalless scoreline.
Wabo proved to be a consistent threat on the counter-attack, and he drew a fine low save from the U’s goalkeeper after a quarter-of-an-hour. Bexon was not called upon in the opposite penalty area three minutes later, but Cambridge were inches away from taking the lead when a right-wing cross was delivered marginally in front of the diving header of a forward.
In front of first-team boss Phil Brown, Blues began to hit their stride as the half progressed and, after 26 minutes, the returning Gard worked the ball into the path of Scott for a scuffed strike that lacked the power to test the ‘keeper. Two minutes later, the creative midfielder combined with Scott again to set up Wabo, but his curling attempt was comfortably gathered by the grateful custodian.
As the intensity of their play increased, Blues grew in confidence, and Wabo fired across the face of goal after outmuscling a defender in the 36th minute before going close again, latching onto a chipped through-ball to hoist a shot narrowly over. Unfortunately, Southend’s hard work was undone in the final minute of the half when a superb right-wing centre was met by an unstoppable bullet header from close range to give Cambridge the advantage.
Blues came out in the second half eager to restore parity, and Gard sent the ball just wide from Scott’s corner in the early stages, only for the hosts to suffer a blow when Keating limped off to be replaced by Bedford. Nonetheless, Southend equalised in the 54th minute when Bexon’s booming clearance was brought down by Scott and he squared the ball to Wabo for a controlled finish from eight yards out.
There was real emotion in the celebrations that followed, and Blues were keen to capitalise quickly on their ascendancy. Cotton had an appeal for a penalty waved away when he appeared to be tripped as he entered the area just two minutes later, but Southend would not have to wait long before taking the lead for the first time.
The goal arrived in the 65th minute when Wabo fought hard for the ball on the halfway line. The striker was fouled, but he stayed on his feet and the referee played a good advantage to allow him to release Scott with a slide-rule pass, and the winger did the rest, holding off a defender to roll in his tenth goal for the U18s.
Five minutes later, Gard set up Wabo during a one-two, but the forward’s lob didn’t reach the goal-line before it was cleared, and shortly afterwards a Cotton corner was flicked into the path of Johnson, who nodded over. However, Cotton did make it 3-1 nine minutes from time when he raced towards Scott’s lofted pass and charged down the goalkeeper’s clearance with the ball a little fortuitously bouncing into the net.
Southend added even more gloss to the scoreline four minutes later when they made it 4-1. Williams’ cross from the right flank was helped into the path of the defender by Scott, and Coutts made no mistake as his strike was guided into the bottom right-hand corner of the net from 15 yards out to spark more joyous scenes.
That marked the end of the scoring in a match that saw Southend bounce back from successive home defeats, and they will now hope to take the confidence that they have gained into next weekend’s short trip to Dagenham & Redbridge.
Southend United U18s: Josh Bexon, Jordan Williams, Emmanuel Adeyeye, Ross Johnson, Sonny Coutts, Daniel Matsuzaka, Brandon Scott, Macauley Keating (Joe Bedford, 47), Norman Wabo (George Burton, 86), Freddie Gard (Harry Phillips, 82), Nico Cotton. Substitutes not used: James Macree, Abdulo Salami.
Goals: Wabo (54), Scott (65), Cotton (81), Coutts (85).
Cautioned: Gard (80, foul tackle).