Southend United U18s claimed a third consecutive victory with their most impressive attacking performance of the season in a 5-2 Boots & Laces triumph over Cambridge United.
Dave Huzzey’s teenage charges have lifted themselves into third place in the EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference following their most recent success, which was earned courtesy of braces from Eren Kinali and Emile Acquah. An own goal by Cambridge’s Sam Squire completed the scoring for the hosts, whilst Jon Neal and Thomas Dickens netted for the U’s.
Huzzey named both Acquah and Sewa Marah in an attacking formation for Blues, with Terrell Egbri dropping out of the squad. Harry Seaden replaced Nathan Bishop in goal, whilst Miles Mitchell-Nelson made his first start of the season at centre-back in place of Zak Pianim. Schoolboys Callum Taylor, Joseph Joseph and Charlie Kelman were all named on the substitutes’ bench,
The sun shone brightly over south-east Essex, and Southend almost made the perfect start to the encounter in the eighth minute. Marah released Acquah down the inside-right channel and continued his run to the far post, but when his strike partner returned the ball he was unable to connect on the volley.
When play switched to the opposite end of the pitch Blues enjoyed a let-off as Sam Bennett’s menacing left-wing free-kick was glanced against the right-hand post by Prince Matswunguma, but an open start to the game continued in the 11th minute when Acquah found Marah and he rounded Cambridge goalkeeper Finley Iron, only to smash his shot into the side-netting from an acute angle.
Brilliant defending by Stevan Shaw prevented Marah from making the most of a Kinali cross as he hooked the ball off the forward’s toecaps on the edge of the six-yard box, but Southend were again relieved in the 18th minute when Bennett shifted the ball out of his feet and steered his 15-yard shot against the left-hand upright, with Matswumguma slipping as he attempted to convert Neal’s follow-up centre.
Iron did well to beat away Jon Benton’s strike from a Kinali through-ball, although the effort would not have stood owing to the assistant referee’s flag being raised. Benton then attempted to turn provider midway through the first half as his pass prized open the Cambridge defence for Matt Rush, but his path to goal was blocked by the covering Shaw.
When Acquah’s shot was parried out by Iron and the rebound was skied over the crossbar in the 25th minute, it appeared that Blues might be in for a frustrating morning, but they took the lead two minutes later through Kinali. The former Interwood youngster won a header from Seaden’s goal-kick on the halfway line and raced clear of the defence before squeezing his shot past Iron with aplomb.
Kinali was at the heart of Southend’s attacking intent as they sought to extend their advantage, and his cross was volleyed wide by Marah in the 32nd minute before further good play by the second-year scholar led to a right-wing delivery for Rush. His attempt was blocked by Iron, and Benton’s follow-up was charged down, whilst the half ended with Rush fizzing a centre across the six-yard box.
Such had been their dominance in the latter stages of the opening period that Blues would have been hopeful of doubling their lead early in the second half, but instead they were pegged back inside three minutes of the restart. Ben Worgan won a corner with an uninterrupted run, and Jordan Norville-Williams’ flag-kick was met by Neal. His initial attempt was repelled by Seaden, but the follow-up was tucked away.
Southend could not have reacted better, and within three minutes they had pulled 3-1 clear. The first goal was the result of Benton’s pinpoint set-piece delivery from out on the right touchline. He sent the ball swinging in to the near post, where Acquah’s dominant header was angled into the top right-hand corner of the net.
Within sixty seconds, Acquah was celebrating his fourth goal of the season and the 17th of his youth team career. It was a very different finish to the first, but again he was indebted to a superb delivery as left-back Ide Osimeh swept the ball down the left flank for the front man to spring the offside trap and tap beyond the advancing Iron.
A quarter-of-an-hour later Southend stretched their lead still further. There was an element of fortune about the goal, although the homesters should be commended for their persistence. A right-wing ball was chased by Acquah, who this time was beaten by Iron. His clearance fell to Marah, and he lobbed a shot against the crossbar, with covering defender Sam Squires inadvertently diverting the ball into his own goal.
Blues began to relax, and they were almost caught out when Neal nodded a Dickens cross wide of the far post in the 72nd minute. Two minutes later Seaden made a scrambling stop to thwart Bennett, and Southend were rewarded with a fifth goal when Kinali latched onto a Benton pass and thrashed a superb finish into the top right-hand corner from 25 yards out.
Cambridge netted a second goal almost straight from the kick-off when Dickens collected the ball on the right-hand side and somehow forced his shot beyond Seaden from a tight angle, but the goalkeeper made sure that there were no more consolations for the visitors by saving from both Worman and Neal in the closing stages.
And, on a day when former youth team captain Elvis Bwomono was Man of the Match for the first-team, there was further evidence of the club’s progression when Kelman and Joseph – who both appeared for the U18s during pre-season – were introduced for their competitive debuts. Next week Blues host AFC Wimbledon at Boots & Laces, kick-off 10:30am.
Southend United U18s: Harry Seaden, Dan Humphreys (Yonis Farah, 74), Idemula Osimeh, Harry Cuthbert, Taylor Curran, Miles Mitchell-Nelson, Eren Kinali (O’Shane Stewart, 81), Jon Benton, Emile Acquah, Sewa Marah (Charlie Kelman, 76), Matt Rush (Joseph Joseph, 90). Substitute not used: Callum Taylor.
Goals: Kinali (27, 75), Acquah (50, 51), Squire (own goal, 66).