Youth team goalkeeper Harry Seaden believes that Southend United U18s are starting to put together a good run after helping the side to a 4-2 victory over Luton Town on Saturday.
Blues had to overcome the second-half dismissal of central defender Miles Mitchell-Nelson to defeat the Hatters at their Ely Way training base, but goals by Matt Rush – who was on target twice – Emile Acquah and Sewa Marah helped the team move up to third in the EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference table.
Shotstopper Seaden, who made a series of important saves throughout the game, was understated in his appraisal of his own performance, but he feels the squad are beginning to come into their own: “I’ve just got to keep the ball out of the back of the net. That’s my job,” he said after the game.
“Luton have got some very good players. Always when you come here they have good players and they are a good side. It was a good game, but we’ve got some momentum now. Momentum is definitely key for this league; you’ve got to keep it. We were in the bottom half for the first ten games of the season, but now we’re pushing for second,” he stated.
Indeed, Huzzey’s teenage charges are now level with second-placed Cambridge United, with a trip to the varsity club ahead of the Shrimpers this weekend. They will go there with confidence following this success, which represented arguably their best performance of the season.
Taylor Curran returned from a wrist injury to replace Zak Pianim alongside Mitchell-Nelson at centre-back in the only change from the team that so impressively defeated Dagenham & Redbridge 2-1 in their previous outing. However, Southend were forced to be patient as Luton dominated the early stages with an early shot whipped wide of the left-hand upright and Seaden confidently clutching a fourth-minute free-kick.
Blues began to establish a foothold in the fixture with Marah’s attempt to pick out an Eren Kinali marginally over-hit in the sixth minute and Jon Benton unleashing a 25-yard shot that sailed over shortly afterwards, and the visitors even struck the woodwork in the tenth minute when a Marah cross was sliced towards his own goal by a Luton defender and the goalkeeper had to push the ball against the upright.
However, the Hatters took the lead in the 13th minute when a short corner was played to the apex of the penalty area and a far post cross wasn’t cleared by the Blues defence. Eventually the ball was turned home from close-range and, with the hosts appearing comfortable in possession, it looked as though Southend would be in for a tough morning.
Chances still arrived at the opposite end, and Acquah made only a glancing connection to an excellent Ide Osimeh cross at the near post in the 19th minute before Rush drilled a long-range attempt inches past the left-hand upright. Crucially, when Luton tried to extend their lead just after the half-hour mark, Seaden stepped in to boot the ball off an attacker’s toecaps and clear the danger.
“I knew the boys could get through it. Training every day with them I didn’t have any hesitation,” he said afterwards, and the first-year gloveman was correct. Six minutes before half-time Rush darted into the penalty area and passed to Acquah. The forward couldn’t find the space to get a shot away, so he offloaded back to Rush and he forced the ball in from six yards out to equalise.
Things could have got even better for Blues before the break as Benton found Kinali with a return pass, but a Luton defender managed to get back to clear inside the six-yard box. From the corner, Benton swung the ball against the crossbar in the blustery conditions and, in stoppage time, the midfielder curled a free-kick narrowly wide.
The away team would not have to wait long after the interval. Seaden made a good stop in the opening seconds, and Rush was inches away from stabbing home Acquah’s flick-on, but Southend made it 2-1 six minutes after the restart. Benton’s quick free-kick found Dan Humphreys and his centre struck a defender before bouncing up and being bundled over the line by Acquah.
Blues were very much in the ascendancy and could have extended their lead when Kinali dragged a shot wide of the left-hand post from a Harry Cuthbert pass and Rush hooked Acquah’s knock-down into the goalkeeper’s gloves, but their relative comfort was threatened just after the hour mark when Mitchell-Nelson was dismissed for violent conduct after becoming tangled with an opponent.
Cuthert slotted back into the back-line temporarily and Benton was sacrificed for O’Shane Stewart’s defensive work in midfield. Midway through the first half Blues were caught out by a forward who sprung the offside trap, and Seaden made a crucial intervention by standing tall to block. Shortly afterwards Marley Hutchings was introduced at centre-half as Acquah was withdrawn.
With a little over a quarter-of-an-hour remaining Marah should have made it 3-1 when Rush’s slide-rule pass put him clear one-on-one with the goalkeeper, but he slotted inches wide of the right-hand post and instead it was Rush himself who sparked scenes of joy when he received Osimeh’s throw and smashed a wickedly curling strike into the top right-hand corner of the net from an acute angle.
Huzzey encouraged the team to keep their heads, and Hutchings and Taylor Curran at the back marshalled the side well, snuffing out any danger. That allowed the ten men to further stretch their advantage in the 83rd minute as Marah thrashed in his 19th youth team goal with a typically virtuoso effort, winning the ball on the edge of the penalty area before thumping home emphatically from twelve yards out.
Luton pulled a goal back in the final minute of the regulation ninety when a right-wing free-kick was nodded powerfully goalwards. Seaden made a superb stop with his legs, but the follow-up was swept home, and the scoreline could have got concerning had the England U17s custodian not dived at full-stretch to keep out an injury-time effort.
As it was, Blues recorded their third win in the last four games, and completed a double over the Hatters. Seaden reserved special praise for schoolboy debutant Sam Brogan, who came on with five minutes remaining, and his team-mates as they overcame Mitchell-Nelson’s red card: “Sam Brogan, from the U16s, came off the bench and he did really well. It’s tough to come off the bench, but fair play to him.”
“It was a great performance by the team. I think going a man down actually helped us out because our grit and determination got us through the game. The skipper dropped in to centre-half for a while and he did really well. It was brilliant by the lads and it was a great result,” he declared.
Southend United U18s: Harry Seaden, Dan Humphreys, Ide Osimeh, Harry Cuthbert (Sam Brogan, 85), Taylor Curran, Miles Mitchell-Nelson, Eren Kinali, Jon Benton (O’Shane Stewart, 65), Emile Acquah (Marley Hutchings, 72), Matt Rush (Terrell Egbri, 85), Sewa Marah.
Goals: Rush (39, 76), Acquah (51), Marah (83).
Dismissed: Mitchell-Nelson (63, violent conduct).
Cautioned: Curran (90+3, dissent).