Substitute Harry Phillips earned Southend United U21s a 1-1 draw in their pre-season friendly against Thurrock on Wednesday evening with an unstoppable late strike.
Blues looked set to be consigned to a narrow defeat against the Isthmian League Premier Division newcomers thanks to Glen Wilson's first-half header, but playmaker Phillips collected Trialist's pass three minutes from time before rifling an unstoppable shot past Bobby Mason in the Thurrock goal.
It was unfortunate for Mason, who had produced a string of fine saves in the first half to keep the hosts ahead in the encounter at Ship Lane, but it was also no less than Kevin Maher's side deserved, with Blues unlucky not to snatch a win through Norman Wabo in the final minute.
Mason's early involvement was routine as he collected Nico Cotton's seventh-minute strike before clutching a Jack Bridge free-kick confidently above his head with Trialist's promising run having been ended by a foul 25 yards from goal. Cotton then fired narrowly over from the right-hand apex of the penalty area as Southend made an impressive start.
It was Thurrock who took the lead, however, after 20 minutes when Harry Gould was brought down by Harry Kyprianou on the edge of the 18-yard box. Ronnie Winn's initial set-piece was cleared, but he retrieved the ball to cross from the right bye-line and defender Wilson was on hand to guide his header beyond Nathan Bishop and inside the far post.
The dangerous Cotton almost responded immediately, but Mason made a brave stop at his near post before gathering the winger's follow-up, and Thurrock could have extended their advantage in the 25th minute were it not for Bishop. The second-year shotstopper did well to read Gould's cheeky back-heel and react quickly.
Play switched to the opposite end, where the ever-willing Trialist released Alex Clark on the left flank and he smashed over under pressure from Wilson. In the 28th minute Trialist was prevented from converting an inviting Tom Clifford cross by centre-back George Winn, and Michael Klass dragged a 15-yard attempt narrowly wide on the half-hour as Blues ramped up the pressure on their opponents.
Two minutes later, Mason was on hand to frustrate Bridge when it looked likely that his low strike would nestle in the corner of the net. The former Southend Manor and Tilbury youngster tipped the midfielder's shot around the left-hand upright, repeating the feat in the 35th minute to turn a Trialist snapshot past the same upright. Mason then reached out at full-stretch to save another Bridge attempt sixty seconds later.
Clark was inches away from levelling when his searing strike marginally cleared the crossbar six minutes before the interval, but at the other end Bishop had to stand tall to repel Harry Cook's near-post effort after the forward had sprung the offside trap to latch onto Joe Christou's through-ball.
Nonetheless, Blues will have felt themselves unfortunate not to go in at the interval all-square, especially when Clark's run was picked out by Joe Bedford and the flanker fired into the side-netting in the 43rd minute. That attack arrived just seconds after Trialist's constant pressing had created a chance for Bridge, who seized on a misplaced pass but was apprehended by George Winn on the edge of the penalty area.
Southend were unable to sustain that momentum early in the second period, and although Trialist nodded wide from Cotton's left-wing delivery, it was Thurrock who threatened to double their lead when substitute Glenn Poole's effort skimmed the crossbar on 56 minutes. Ronnie Winn then brought out the best in Bishop on the hour as he made a fine one-on-one stop at the end of the wide man's jinking run.
Wabo was introduced in place of Clark, and Trialist just failed to find the replacement forward in the 71st minute at the end of a lung-busting run. That was indicative of Southend's frustrations, and Maher turned to Phillips and Renei Batlokwa in an attempt to freshen up the midfield a couple of minutes later, although it would take time for the duo to exert their influence on proceedings.
In the 77th minute a superb Batlokwa pass almost unlocked the Thurrock defence, but Wabo failed to control the ball on the edge of the 'D' after Trialist had initiated a counter-attack. Five minutes later Trialist's pass found Elvis Bwomono, who saw his effort charged down before Batlokwa fired a Bridge pass straight at Mason.
With time running out, Mason was finally beaten. Wabo was released down the left-hand side, and he managed to divert the ball into Trialist’s path. He tracked across the edge of the penalty area before finding Phillips, who cut back onto his left foot before smashing home via the underside of the crossbar.
Blues could have earned a late triumph in the final minute when Wabo broke from midfield and outpaced the defence, only to find Mason in imperious form once again as he beat away two shots in quick succession before, with the game's final attack, the gloveman thwarted Batlokwa at his near post. Southend will be tested again on Saturday when they travel to National League Maidstone United.
Southend United U21s: Nathan Bishop, Elvis Bwomono, Daniel Matsuzaka, Alex Clark (Norman Wabo, 57), Trialist, Jack Bridge, Nico Cotton (Harry Phillips, 73), Tom Clifford, Michael Klass (Renei Batlokwa, 73), Harry Kyprianou, Joe Bedford. Substitutes not used: Lewis Gard, Sonny Coutts.
Goal: Phillips (87).