Young Blues go down in Devon, at Exeter City.
Southend United U18s left themselves too much to do in their away match at Exeter City, losing 4-1 despite captain Ross Johnson netting a second-half spot-kick.
By that time, Blues trailed by three goals to Toby Down's twin finishes from set-pieces and Cameron Gill's opportunist strike. A later effort from Alex Byrne, again from a corner, compounded Southend's misery after right-back Jordan Williams had been dismissed for violent conduct during a spirited second-half display.
The visitors, who travelled to Devon on Friday during a trip that included a training session at Reading's Academy and an overnight stay at a nearby hotel, made one change to the starting eleven following the 3-0 victory over AFC Bournemouth as goalkeeper Josh Bexon was deemed fit to return. Schoolboy Thomas Ripsher was named amongst the substitutes alongside trialist Charles Weston-Hales, who had scored on his debut.
After an evenly-matched opening, Bexon was drawn into action for the first time in the ninth minute when he brilliantly turned away a Gill header at point-blank range. It did not take long for Blues to respond as Freddie Gard saw an initial strike from Brandon Scott's cross blocked by a defender before sending the follow-up wide.
After a quarter-of-an-hour Johnson's midfield header set Norman Wabo clear, but his shot was sliced across the face of goal and that allowed Exeter to take the lead just before the mid-point of the first half. Kyle Egan's right-wing corner was met by Down at the near post and he planted his header into the net from six yards out to make it 1-0.
Within sixty seconds, Southend had an opportunity to equalise as Gard arced the ball in from the right flank and Abdul Salami's glancing header bounced wide of the left-hand upright. The visitors were punished again for their profligacy in the 26th minute when Exeter stretched their lead, defender Down stabbing home from close-range after Blues had failed to deal with a delivery from the opposite corner quadrant.
Byrne saw an attempt blocked by the Blues back-line, but that did not deter the Grecians from pushing forward in search of a third, and Dean Billingsley was thwarted by Bexon, who made a useful stop with his legs at the near post. In the 36th minute, Down was prevented from helping himself to a hat-trick when his towering header was nodded off the line by Renei Batlokwa.
However, the third goal finally arrived six minutes before the interval when Joe Charles broke down the middle and forced Bexon into a parried save. The goalkeeper succeeded only in pushing the ball into the path of Gill, who tucked home from eight yards out to leave Blues with a mountain to climb.
Southend's task would have been made easier if they had snatched a goal before half-time, but they failed to convert an opportunity in the final minute when Scott put Wabo through down the inside-left channel and his square pass picked out Gard at the back post, with the playmaker missing his kick at the vital moment.
Salami was forced off with an injury early the second period, allowing Sonny Coutts to return from an ailment of his own, but Blues pushed on and grabbed a goal back in the 51st minute after Nico Cotton had been brought down just inside the penalty area. Skipper Johnson took the responsibility of converting from twelve yards out to reduce the arrears to two goals.
Suddenly Southend were on top and, within a minute of scoring, Scott almost made it 3-2 after exchanging passes with Williams. His well-struck effort from distance was brilliantly tipped over the crossbar by City custodian Kavanagh Keadell, who thwarted the winger for a second time on 57 minutes after Scott had met Cotton's free-kick with a stinging shot.
In between, Blues made an attacking substitution, bringing on Weston-Hales for midfielder Batlokwa, but they were dealt a huge blow when Williams was dismissed for violent conduct just before the hour mark. The full-back reacted badly after having the ball thrown in his direction, and he will now miss the final three matches of the season.
Southend continued to attack and Johnson thumped a 30-yarder into Keadell's gloves from a Weston-Hales lay-off before the front-man himself tested the shotstopper with a strike from the edge of the penalty area following a pinpoint pass from fellow substitute Harry Phillips.
Unfortunately Exeter added a fourth goal in the 73rd minute when Byrne's right-wing corner was allowed to travel all the way across the face of goal and inside the far post. Southend continued to enjoy the majority of the possession in the final quarter-of-an-hour, but they were unable to fashion any clear-cut chances and will be hoping for an improvement in their next assignment, away to Peterborough United, on Saturday.
Southend United U18s: Josh Bexon, Jordan Williams, Emmanuel Adeyeye, Joe Bedford, Abdul Salami (Sonny Coutts, 49), Ross Johnson, Brandon Scott, Renei Batlokwa (Charles Weston-Hales, 55), Norman Wabo (Harry Phillips, 67), Freddie Gard, Nico Cotton.
Substitute not used: Thomas Ripsher.