U21s suffer defeat thanks to double from former Blues striker
A second-half brace by former Blues forward Joe Pigott helped Maidstone United to consign Southend United U21s to a 3-0 pre-season friendly defeat.
Pigott, who scored a dramatic late equaliser for Southend in the 2015 League Two Play-Off Final, needs no introduction to Blues fans, and he scored two goals in a twelve-minute spell to add to Stuart Lewis’ superb first-half effort against an U21s team that featured six members of the club’s youth team squad for the 2017/18 season.
Boss Kevin Maher will have learnt a lot about the strength of Southend’s resources this season after this difficult assignment against National League opposition at the Gallagher Stadium. The team worked hard and it took an outstanding goal by Lewis to eventually break them down. Even when Pigott grabbed his double, there was no little resolve from the youthful visitors.
There were eight changes to the team that had drawn 1-1 at Thurrock three days previously, and one of those, Eren Kinali, saw a sixth-minute strike charged down as Southend attempted to start on the front foot. Blues kept the ball well early on, playing the ball out of defence and building from the back. However, Nathan Bishop had to be alert in the 14th minute to deny Harley Willard.
The second-year scholar produced another fine save three minutes later to thwart Pigott, who latched onto the ball following indecision in the Southend defence. As the two-time Roots Hall loanee bore down one-on-one with Bishop, it seemed certain that he would open the scoring, but the teenage custodian brilliantly pushed the ball into the side-netting.
From the resultant Willard corner, Pigott’s towering header was scrambled away thanks to a combination of Yonis Farah and the base of the left-hand upright, and the striker was looking threatening again in the 20th minute until Taylor Curran read Delano Sam-Yorke’s menacing centre and sent the ball out of play for a corner.
It took a goal of real quality for Maidstone to take the lead in the 29th minute, although Southend contributed to their own downfall as Wabo gave away possession in his own half. The ball was worked to Lewis, who steadied himself 25 yards from goal before arrowing a strike just inside the right-hand post. Bishop may have got the merest of fingertips to the shot, but he couldn’t keep it out.
Another ex-Shrimper, Jack Paxman – a talented midfielder who came through the club’s Academy – almost doubled the lead within seconds when his left-footed drive flashed across the face of goal, and Lewis went close to repeating his feat in the 37th minute when he collected Jai Reason’s short free-kick and clipped the right-hand post from the edge of the penalty area.
Although Blues had not tested Lee Worgan in the Stones goal, they had got through a lot of defensive work, with Pigott watched closely as he narrowly failed to get a toecap on Sam-Yorke’s right-wing cross in the closing stages of the first half.
The weather conditions worsened during the interval, but there was no problem with the artificial surface at the Gallagher Stadium, and Paxman’s well-struck effort zipped across the face of goal within two minutes of the restart. Ten minutes later Bishop made a routine stop to keep out a Sam-Yorke strike after he had powered past Farah.
On the hour mark Bishop managed to turn Willard’s close-range finish against the inside of the left-hand post, but just sixty seconds later he was beaten. Seth Nana-Twumasi coaxed the ball in from the right-hand touchline and Pigott rose imperiously above Curran to plant a header into the top right-hand corner of the net.
Willard fired narrowly wide in the 64th minute, but there was a little respite for Southend when Harry Phillips slammed a shot into the roof of the net from the resultant Bishop free-kick. Unfortunately the assistant referee’s flag had already been raised and there was no question that Blues had reduced the deficit.
Pigott smashed over after holding off Zak Pianim in the 71st minute, but two minutes later he was celebrating again as he contributed his second header of the afternoon. This time Joe Anderson was the provider, teasing in a left-wing cross that Pigott powered past Bishop after out-jumping Farah.
He could have had a hat-trick, but he whacked a close-range finish against the crossbar, and Lewis was thwarted by an excellent block from Pianim in the 76th minute. Ten minutes later, Bishop brilliantly blocked Sam-Yorke’s shot from a flicked Pigott header, and he also made a good stop from the same player’s close-range header from a corner.
The match ended with Maidstone defender Josh Hare heading narrowly wide from a left-wing flag-kick, leaving Blues to return from Kent with a 3-0 defeat. On Monday they take on Colchester United U21s as they round-off a strong and varied pre-season campaign.
Southend United U21s: Nathan Bishop, Dan Humphreys, Yonis Farah, Joe Bedford, Taylor Curran, Zak Pianim, Eren Kinali, Lewis Gard (Trialist, 77), Norman Wabo (Miles Mitchell-Nelson, 87), Harry Phillips, Alex Clark (Emile Acquah, 62).