Midfielder O’Shane Stewart was pleased to help Southend United U18s record their first victory in three matches as he returned from injury in a 2-1 win over Peterborough United at Boots & Laces.
First-year scholar Stewart was injured in a training ground collision with goalkeeper Harry Seaden a fortnight ago but, after missing out on the defeats to Leyton Orient and Barnet, he was delighted to mark his comeback with a triumph and stake a claim for a regular starting spot.
“I think the boys worked really hard,” he said. “We kept going and worked hard for each other, and the result shows that if you work hard in training during the week, then the result comes. I have kept going while I’ve been out of the side and worked hard, and I’ve always had belief in myself.”
“I want to keep hold of my shirt, so every day when I come into the training ground I’ve got to work hard and show Dave Huzzey what I’m made of. I want to maintain my shirt in the starting eleven, be a consistent footballer and hopefully get some goals and assists as the season goes on,” added Stewart.
Alongside the schemer in the Blues starting line-up was schoolboy Reece Chandler, who made his debut at right-back in place of Marley Hutchings. Matt Rush was not risked after picking up a minor niggle in training following his man-of-the-match display at The Hive.
Neither team imposed themselves on the opening exchanges, with a couple of set-pieces at either end coming to nothing, but it was the visitors who threatened a goal first. Posh playmaker Andrea Borg swept a shot over in the tenth minute before Harrison Burrows drew a smart save from Harry Seaden just seconds later.
Peterborough took the lead shortly before the quarter-of-an-hour mark. The dangerous Borg picked out skipper Sam Cartwright on the right-hand side of the penalty area and, when the central defender’s fierce attempt was repelled, Borg was on hand to convert from ten yards out through a gap in the Blues defence.
A darting run by Southend captain Harry Curthbert four minutes later eventually led to the first effort on goal for the hosts as Stewart switched play to Ide Osimeh on the left touchline and he passed inside to Jon Benton, who dragged his effort wide of the right-hand post.
Burrows steered wide from the right-hand side of the penalty area as Peterborough spurned a good opportunity to double their advantage, but Blues were struggling to find their rhythm and an over-hit pass from Terrell Egbri towards Eren Kinali was indicative of their play. Benton then fired over from long-range on the half-hour.
Benton also curled a free-kick over from 25 yards before the Shrimpers levelled the scores with ten minutes remaining in the first half. Centre-half Taylor Curran prized open the Posh defence with a superb slide-rule pass for Egbri to chase, and his pinpoint cross was met by Emile Acquah, who powerfully headed home his 24th youth team goal after timing his run to perfection.
It was a superb team goal as Blues moved play quickly from one end to the other to catch out their opponents, but the hosts had to hang on in what remained of the opening period to maintain parity. Miles Mitchell-Nelson lost the ball in midfield to allow Borg to advance on goal, but he was denied by a full-length Seaden save in the 38th minute.
Within seconds the diminutive Borg had been left unmarked to head over from eight yards out, and in the 40th minute he fired wide after Mo Hamza had found his run on the right-hand side of the penalty area. Southend rode out the storm, and they went into the second half all-square.
Although Hamza curled over following a Seaden punch in the early stages of the second period, Southend were much more positive and Benton’s through-ball almost released Cuthbert, who found himself thwarted by the brave dive of Josh Allen at his feet.
With just five minutes played after the restart, Blues were in front for the first time. Osimeh shifted the ball down the left flank to Kinali and he drifted intelligently inside before curling a superb shot beyond the grasp of Allen and into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
There was an anxious moment straight from the kick-off when Luke Strachan’s left-wing effort bounced back off the woodwork, but Southend were on the front foot again within seconds as Acquah saw his 20-yard effort deflected off-target.
The game opened up, and Seaden did well to save from Josh Davison after he had been found by strike partner Borg in the 55th minute before Burrows drove an effort wide from the edge of the penalty area three-quarters of the way through the match.
Blues had not consolidated their position, and Sam Knock was introduced in place of Egbri as Huzzey sought to shore up defensively. Kinali had a chance to extend Southend’s advantage, but he fired wide from a similar position to his earlier goal whilst Cuthbert skied his follow-up after Allen had punched out a Benton set-piece.
Chandler had a moment of fortune when he sliced a Borg corner onto the top of his own crossbar, but he also did wonderfully well to clear a Hamza cross under pressure with four minutes remaining. Blues stood firm during three minutes of stoppage time, and they claimed their tenth win of the season prior to Posh defender Frazer Garner’s red card after the final whistle.
“I still thought we were in the game when the goal went in because we were playing better than Peterborough. I felt we still had an advantage that meant we could score and potentially win the game,” reported Stewart after the game, before discussing his personal philosophy on how to be successful as a youth team footballer.
“If you keep working hard the rewards will come. You need to have a drive and you need to know why you want to be a professional footballer. You have to keep going and going and going and, when you wake up, you need to say, ‘I want to be a professional footballer’.”
“Dru Yearwood is a good friend of mine and he has worked hard for it. If you work hard for things in life, then dreams come true. Seeing him push into the first-team shows there is something in this Academy, so hopefully I can get into the first-team and become a professional footballer,” he added.
Southend United: Harry Seaden, Reece Chandler, Ide Osimeh, Jon Benton, Taylor Curran, Miles Mitchell-Nelson, Terrell Egbri (Sam Knock 72), Harry Cuthbert, Emile Acquah, Jon Benton (Charlie Kelman, 87), Eren Kinali. Substitutes not used: Dan Confrey, Marley Hutchings, Tundai Quamina.
Goals: Acquah (35), Kinali (50).
Cautioned:Curran (59, adopting an aggressive attitude).