Young Blues turn on the style to thump sorry Gillingham in 8-0 thrashing in Kent.
Southend United U18s began the New Year in style thanks to a thumping 8-0 victory at Gillingham, with Blues scoring seven goals during an incredible second half.
Having twice conceded seven goals this term, this scoreline went some way to avenging the reverses at Peterborough United and Watford despite Southend’s position having looked somewhat precarious at the break when a Gillingham own goal represented the only difference between the sides at Beechings Cross.
The Gills would have been hoping for a continuation of the blustery conditions that had made attractive football difficult to display in the first half, but the wind partially relented to present Dave Huzzey’s team with the perfect opportunity to impress ahead of Tuesday’s tough trip to league leaders Barnet.
Southend were missing regular captain Ross Johnson and his deputy Sonny Coutts, so Freddie Gard skippered the side from the centre of midfield. Daniel Matsuzaka’s senior squad call-up presented Joe Mackenzie with a first start for the U18s at the heart of the defence, whilst Macauley Keating joined long-term injury absentees Harry Norman and Dan Walker on the sidelines.
In truth, Blues had the better of the first half and could have been more than a solitary goal ahead, but Gillingham posed a threat from set-pieces as they attempted to attack into the worst of the elements. Nico Cotton, who was featuring in his 50th youth team match, warmed the goalkeeper’s gloves with the first strike in the seventh minute, and Renei Batlokwa also brought a useful stop from the custodian shortly afterwards.
Cotton then fired over as the visitors enjoyed the majority of the openings in a fragmented passage of play, and George Burton wasted an excellent chance to make it 1-0 on 18 minutes when he stabbed the winger’s left-wing centre over the crossbar from six yards out. Following Cotton’s early endeavours, opposite flanker Brandon Scott then took centre stage, driving a shot across the face of goal before sliding the ball agonisingly past the post having beaten the goalkeeper to a through ball.
Blues could have become frustrated but, as the very worst of the weather arrived nine minutes before the break, they finally took the lead. Cotton was instrumental, beating his full-back on the outside before cutting back and crossing into the six-yard box. A Gillingham defender charged across to stop the ball reaching its intended target, but in doing so he succeeded only in slamming it into the roof of his own goal.
Within seconds, Josh Bexon was required to make an outstanding save to preserve Southend’s advantage. Blues have done a lot of work this season regarding concentrating in the aftermath of goals, but a deep free-kick caused problems when it was hoisted into the penalty area and a forward arrowed a volley goalwards, only for Bexon to fling himself to his right to push the ball away at point-blank range.
Scott almost curled in a second five minutes before the interval, and he was a key figure as Blues made an impressive start to the second period. Almost straight from the kick-off he burst down the right and crossed for Batlokwa, who was inches away from converting. From the resultant goal-kick, the midfielder set-up Burton for a side-footed finish that drew a comfortable stop from the custodian.
Gillingham could have expected it to be difficult for Southend to get out of their half given the experience of the first half, but instead they were penned in themselves by their hungry opponents and, with the second period still in its infancy, Burton saw a header drift inches wide after a poor aerial clearance. Finally the pressure told on 51 minutes when Scott stepped over a free-kick to allow Burton to curl the ball beautifully over the wall and into the net.
Scott was denied a goal of his own when the goalkeeper’s legs prevented him from firing home a Cotton cross, but he turned provider again just before the hour mark to set up Burton for his tenth career youth team goal. Scott advanced through midfield before selecting the perfect moment to pass and release the forward, who dispatched his shot clinically past the ‘keeper.
Burton continued to be a nuisance for the Gillingham defence and he won flick-ons to set up Scott and Cotton within the next twelve minutes, but they were both thwarted by the goalkeeper’s legs. In between, a rare slip by Mackenzie - who alongside Abdul Salami and Jordan Williams at the back was superb - allowed a Gills forward to bear down on goal, but the schoolboy recovered to force him wide and Bexon made ground to turn the shot to safety.
Burton was replaced by another U16s player, Imani Matthews, and he made an instant impression to set up the fourth goal on 72 minutes. Joe Bedford was involved in the patient build-up play from the outset, alongside Matthews and left-back Emmanuel Adeyeye, before concluding the move himself by drilling home a daisy-cutter from 25 yards out for his first goal since August.
Yet another schoolboy, Damani Dias, was introduced for captain Gard, and he played a part in the fifth goal in the 81st minute. The move started with Bexon, who rolled the ball out to the midfielder on the edge of his own penalty area. Dias strode through the middle of the pitch uninhibited and eventually rode a series of challenges before squaring the ball to Batlokwa, who spun and turned home his first goal since the opening day of the season.
Four minutes later the scoreline read 6-0 as Matthews released Bedford once again. The first-year scholar collected the pass on the right-hand side of the penalty area and stroked the ball beyond the goalkeeper, who was forced to pick the ball out of his own net again in the 89th minute when Batlokwa bravely slid onto Scott’s pass to stab home. Matthews made sure of the goal by occupying the attentions of a backtracking defender.
The finishing touches to the victory, Southend’s heaviest in the past six seasons, were provided by Cotton, who, having seen another couple of attempts fly wide, finally managed to convert in stoppage time by bringing down a lofted ball and sending an angled finish inside the left-hand upright to complete the stunning 8-0 win.
Southend United U18s: Josh Bexon, Jordan Williams, Emmanuel Adeyeye, Joe Bedford, Abdul Salami, Joe Mackenzie, Brandon Scott, Freddie Gard (Damani Dias, 73), George Burton (Imani Matthews, 71), Renei Batlokwa, Nico Cotton.
Substitute not used: James Macree.