Southend United U18s kicked-off the 2018/19 season with a 2-1 win away to Barnet at The Hive.
After a challenging pre-season campaign against some of the country’s leading Academy’s, Dave Huzzey’s squad emerged victorious in their opening EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference encounter courtesy of second-half goals from Matt Rush and Charlie Kelman.
Youth team coach Huzzey felt the display vindicated their build-up to the new season:“The results might not have been good for us in pre-season, but the process was excellent and I can say that because, when the result mattered in the first game of the season, we’ve won and the performance was better than the result.”
“The performance showed us a lot about these individuals and how they’re going to step on and move up into the U23s and hopefully, one day, into the first-team,” he added.
One of the key aspects of pre-season was the emergence of some of the Academy’s schoolboy talent, and Huzzey had no hesitation in throwing left-back Alex Bragg and centre-half Jimmy Wallace straight into the action.
“They were outstanding,” he declared. “It’s a credit to this Academy that we can put two U16s in the starting line-up to play 90 minutes and they have more than survived and performed to a high level. They were excellent today.”
“The most pleasing thing wasn’t when we were 2-0 up, it was when it went to 2-1 and seeing how they reacted to that. From not having any pressure on the result previously, Jimmy Wallace has cleared one of the line and made an excellent header in the last minute from a set-piece.”
“Alex Bragg has cleared one off the line and made one or two interceptions to cut the ball going out to their wide man. They showed they can deal with pressure, and that’s a credit to themselves and to our Academy coaches such as Rob Polkinghorn and Danny Heath,” claimed Huzzey.
Blues were straight out of the blocks at The Hive, and Terrell Egbri should have given the visitors the lead in the second minute. Kelman’s quick throw found Rush, who turned his marker to zip the ball into Egbri’s feet. Unfortunately the winger’s effort was parried to safety by the Barnet goalkeeper.
Blues continued to probe and Rush’s glancing header from a Jon Benton free-kick required a full-length save from the home custodian in the fifth minute before Kelman, Rush and Egbri all saw mid-range attempts charged down shortly afterwards.
Barnet’s initial hesitancy to go forwards almost led to a Southend goal in the 14th minute but, after Egbri had stolen the ball to release Rush, the second-year scholar’s driven effort was directed wide. The Bees then threatened themselves, but a right-wing cross was cleared well by Miles Mitchell-Nelson.
Bragg’s tenacity helped him win possession in the 20th minute, and he then showed his passing range with a superb through-ball for Rush, whose control let him down as he tried to round the goalkeeper. However, the home side were also warming to their task and they clipped the outside of the right post with an angled finish midway through the opening period.
The game was becoming more stretched, and O’Shane Stewart swept a shot over from the edge of the penalty area just before half-time, whilst Kelman drilled wide from a raking Wallace pass. At the other end, Blues benefitted from a massive let-off when a Barnet attacker steered his finish across the face of goal.
Despite that, Southend almost led at the break when Egbri latched onto the ball on the edge of the penalty box and saw his effort deflected wide. Instead the sides returned to their changing rooms with the game remaining goalless.
If Blues had started the first period well, that was matched by their opponents in the second half as the Bees hit the woodwork for a second time in the 47th minute. This time a right-wing centre was thumped against the underside of the crossbar, whilst from the ensuing corner Bragg was required to clear a header off the goal-line.
Despite that, Blues took the lead in the 52nd minute. Stewart unlocked the Barnet back-line with a through-ball for Kelman, who drew the goalkeeper out of position with his direct run. From there it was easy for the first-year to square the ball to Rush, who coolly slotted home to open his account for the new term.
Within three minutes it was 2-0 as Kelman marked his first competitive youth team start with his second goal at the level. The forward earned the opportunity when his quick feet led to a defender tripping him in the area, and he got up quickly to convert the penalty himself.
Southend could have put the result beyond doubt during the next ten minutes as Jon Benton failed to deliver a shot after being picked out by Bragg on the hour and the midfielder also struck a weak shot goalwards from a Kelman centre a few moments later.
Kelman then prodded over as he chased down a long Harry Seaden goal-kick with 20 minutes remaining, but Barnet bounced back and, just after Seaden had made a smart near-post stop, they halved their deficit as a right-wing cross was nodded accurately into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
Seaden made a good save when a shot was delivered through a crowded penalty area shortly afterwards, and Wallace thumped the ball to safety when it was squared beyond Seaden, whilst a free-kick was glanced narrowly wide by the hosts.
Kelman did curl marginally off-target for Blues, but the visitors had to cling on during stoppage time to claim the three points. Substitute Ben Dabbs misjudged a header but Wallace timed his tackle to perfection to force the ball out for a corner, and the towering centre-half headed imperiously clear from the ensuing flag-kick to make sure Southend won.
Southend United U18s: Harry Seaden, Ide Osimeh, Alex Bragg, Sam Brogan, Miles Mitchell-Nelson (Ben Dabbs, 64), Jimmy Wallace, O’Shane Stewart, Jon Benton, Charlie Kelman, Terrell Egbri, Matt Rush (Issa Mpangea, 85). Substitutes not used: Callum Taylor, Reiss Chandler, Freddy Eastwood.
Goals: Rush (52), Kelman (55, pen).