Blues youngsters his MK Dons for six as 100% record continues.
Forward Dan Walker continued his recent goal glut with a hat-trick at Milton Keynes Dons to help Southend United U18s to record a 6-1 victory.
The win - Southend’s sixth straight success from the start of the season - was earned despite falling behind for the first time in 2015/16 in the tenth minute. However, Walker’s treble, in alliance with goals from Abdul Salami, Joe Bedford and Alex Clark, ensured that Dave Huzzey’s side continued their excellent start to the campaign.
Blues made four changes to the line-up from the narrow victory against AFC Wimbledon as goalkeeper James Macree, defender Tom Ripsher, midfielder Ben Musselwhite and attacker Imani Matthews were handed their first starts of the season. It took some time for the team to match their opponents’ fluidity of passing, but Musselwhite did begin by linking well with Bedford and Harry Phillips.
Unfortunately for the visitors, they slipped behind early in the encounter. Having conceded a corner, Blues were not alive to a near-post delivery and an attacker was able to shake off the attentions of skipper Salami to slam into the roof of the net from close range.
It was a disappointing opening, but MK were posing constant problems for Southend with their movement of the ball and Salami was perhaps a little fortunate not to concede a penalty when the hosts claimed that the central defender had pushed a forward after a quarter-of-an-hour. Five minutes later, Salami was cautioned for a foul on the halfway line having lost possession.
He soon picked himself up and helped to haul his side level as, midway through the half, the captain delivered a lofted free-kick from just inside his own half and the in-form Walker managed to wrestle free from the attentions of a defender. Facing the chance to score whilst one-on-one with the goalkeeper, he nonchalantly chipped in to make it 1-1.
MK attempted to hit straight back, and in the 25th minute an outstanding last ditch challenge from Salami prevented a forward from being able to get a shot away from the edge of the six-yard box. Play switched immediately to the other end and Walker was presented with the chance to score from a Lewis Gard pass, but he curled at the goalkeeper and Gard could only fire the follow-up over.
Despite that opportunity, MK continued to pile the pressure on and a midfielder shot narrowly over the crossbar from distance before Macree was called upon to grab hold of a strike delivered from the edge of the penalty area. Then, in the 35th minute, the homesters were thwarted by the woodwork as a clean strike from 30 yards out cannoned against the crossbar.
Blues were being outplayed, but they edged in front seven minutes before the break. Phillips was the creator, earning a corner when his free-kick was glanced out of play by a defender and then sprinting across to the quadrant to deliver a cross to the back post, where Salami rose highest amongst a sea of yellow shirts to power his header home from four yards out.
It was the skipper’s second goal of the season, and it proved to be a crucial moment in determining the destination of the three points. Southend grew in belief, and Bedford was almost presented with a goal in the 42nd minute when the goalkeeper mis-kicked into his path, only for the midfielder’s shot to clip a defender’s head and drift out for a corner.
From the resultant Phillips flag-kick, Bedford had another chance to extend the advantage, but he headed over when unmarked eight yards out. However, the midfielder finally notched his first goal of the season just a minute before half-time when he latched onto a Phillips pass to roll the ball confidently into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
Alex Clark was introduced in place of Matthews at the interval, but MK flew out of the blocks in the second period and Macree made a solid near-post save in the 53rd minute after a short corner routine on the right-hand side. Three minutes later, the custodian made a superb full-length save to turn a swinging shot around the left-hand upright and, from the corner, Elvis Bwomono hacked a flicked finish off the goal-line.
Against that backdrop, Blues made it 4-1 just before the hour mark as Clark scored his first competitive goal for the Shrimpers. The winger took control of a long ball down the left flank before nudging it clear of the defence and confidently dispatching his shot past the goalkeeper to spark scenes of delight.
Norman Wabo was brought on for Gard at the mid-point of the second half and, within seconds, Southend had opened up a four-goal lead, although it was fellow striker Walker that hit the target as he beat the offside trap to round the goalkeeper and squeeze the ball home from an acute angle.
Clark had an opportunity to double his personal tally in the 72 minute when he collected Ripsher’s pass on the edge of his own penalty area and raced the length of the pitch before drilling his shot straight at the goalkeeper. Two minutes later, Walker unselfishly squared the ball to Phillips when well-placed to shoot, but the playmaker was denied by a scrambling stop.
That was Phillips’ last involvement as he was replaced by Damani Dias, who himself could have scored in the 87th minute, only to allow the goalkeeper to make a good save with Bedford screaming at him for a square pass. By that time, Walker had completed his inaugural hat-trick for Blues, seizing on a mis-placed pass by a defender to clinically fire into the back of the net and take the adulation of his team-mates.
Macree was still called upon in stoppage time to palm a rasping shot over the crossbar, and his activity in the final minute was indicative of the general pattern of play. Despite that, Southend had dug deep when not at their best to register their largest victory of the 2015/16 season to date. They will be looking to carry that momentum forward into Saturday’s game against Gillingham at Boots & Laces.
Southend United U18s: James Macree, Elvis Bwomono, Tom Ripsher, Joe Bedford, Joe Mackenzie, Abdul Salami, Imani Matthews (Alex Clark, 46), Ben Musselwhite, Dan Walker, Harry Phillips (Damani Dias, 76), Lewis Gard (Norman Wabo, 67).
Goals: Walker (23, 68, 86), Salami (38), Bedford (44), Clark (58).