First-year scholar Freddy Eastwood was delighted to play his part with a goal and two assists as Southend United U18s returned to winning ways by claiming a 6-0 triumph at home to Leyton Orient.
Eastwood scored his eighth goal of the current campaign to add to earlier efforts from Terrell Egbri, Charlie Kelman, Sam Knock, Matt Rush and Issa Mpenga in the victory over the O’s. Harry Seaden and the defence were equally pleased to register their second clean sheet of the campaign.
“I thought it was good,” said Eastwood of the game. “We started well this week and it was a positive to go 1-0 up quickly. The boys were good throughout the game and we stayed switched on and didn’t concede, so it was a solid performance as well as a win.”
Blues had been beaten twice and drew 3-3 at Milton Keynes Dons in their previous three matches, having won seven games in a row before that: “It was tough to come off The FA Youth Cup and have a game three days later at MK Dons. We got on with it because it is what it is and we’ve bounced back and won. That’s good from the boys.”
Southend had won 5-0 against Orient in their previous league encounter before an exciting 4-3 success after extra time in the First Round of The FA Youth Cup last month, and they made the perfect start to this meeting as Egbri put Blues a goal ahead after just 104 seconds. The winger fired home his seventh goal of the season after good work from Kelman to set him up twelve yards out.
Kelman was everywhere in the early stages and he almost benefitted from the pressure exerted by Rush when his attempt to charge the ball down in the fifth minute almost ricocheted into his strike partner’s path. O’s goalkeeper Rhys Byrne then made a superb save to tip O’Shane Stewart’s 20-yard strike around the post.
In the 14th minute Kelman finally scored the goal that his performance deserved. The former Bromfords School pupil won a free-kick close to the corner flag and Eastwood delivered the ball into the penalty area, where Kelman rose to glance the ball inside the right-hand post.
Stewart was denied again by Byrne just after the quarter-of-an-hour mark as his curling free-kick was palmed away from the top right-hand corner but, in the 25th minute, Kelman saw a ferocious strike deflected out for a corner and that gave Knock the opportunity to head home his second goal in the last four games as he leapt imperiously to meet Egbri’s cross.
Blues were 3-0 up inside half-an-hour, and they could have added more goals when Rush found Kelman and his skidding shot was clutched just off the turf by Byrne before the custodian parried another attempt from the United States youth international to safety following a rangy run through midfield by Stewart.
Egbri was thwarted by another outstanding save by Byrne, who jumped across to touch the winger’s stinging shot away in the 31st minute, whilst Eastwood was frustrated when a defender got across to block his attempt from Stewart’s intelligent slide-rule pass.
There was a warning for Blues when the dangerous Jaedon Phillips fired over on the half-volley from Lawrence Hammond’s right-wing centre, but the hosts stretched their advantage still further a minute before half-time when Rush edged ahead of Kelman with his 13th goal of the season. The second-year forward latched onto Ide Osimeh’s pass before clinically drilling the ball beyond Byrne and into the bottom right-hand corner.
Dave Huzzey, who had made one change to the starting line-up with Sam Brogan stepping into midfield in place of Jon Benton, made no substitutions at the interval as he challenged the squad to maintain their high standards. Osimeh sent a searing shot narrowly over in the 53rd minute, but there were few chances in the third quarter of the match.
Phillips sent an attempted lob wide from 40 yards out, and Ahmed Mizra lashed wide at the far post after connecting with a left-wing cross for the visitors, but the introduction of Mpenga revitalised the teenage Shrimpers as an attacking force. Within two minutes of coming on as a replacement for Kelman he had scored his first youth team goal, firing home from Eastwood’s excellent pass.
The scoring was completed two minutes later when Mpenga returned the favour for Eastwood. The youngster made no mistake when the ball was rolled into his feet around twelve yards out and he smashed in left-footed to make it 6-0.
“I just thought that when the chance came to me I would shoot. I was a bit frustrated because I wanted a goal, but I had set a couple up so I was just waiting for my time and I took my chance, so I’m happy. I’ve been trying to score goals and get assists. I’m happy just to stay in the team and keep doing what I do best,” claimed Eastwood.
As well as Mpenga, Ahmet Biler and Jimmy Wallace were introduced to the action late on in the match, with Mpenga almost adding a seventh goal in the final minute of the game as his 25-yard drive was clutched by Byrne. Blues consolidated third place in the EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference with the win, and now travel to Stevenage on Tuesday afternoon.
Eastwood is happy to have started ten of the last eleven games, having begun the 2018/19 campaign on the bench: “It was tough when I was on the bench at the start of the season. It was hard for me because I expect to play, but I just got on with it and worked hard and got myself back in the team and scoring goals as well. It was good to do well coming into the team and getting a goal helped set me on my way,” he said.
And what of the obvious connection with his legendary father, with whom he shares a name? Eastwood is keen to forge his own career at Roots Hall and follow in the footsteps of team-mate Kelman: “The gaffer has been good and he has given the boys a chance. They’ve taken their chance and it’s good to see them pushing through at a young age. Hopefully when my chance comes I’ll take it like they have done,” he states.
“It’s hard because of what’s expected, but I just get on with it. I just do my own thing and try to be myself. I want to be a big name at the club, like my dad, so the dream is to get into the first team. Hopefully that chance will come if I work hard,” he concluded.
Southend United U18s: Harry Seaden, Ben Dabbs, Ide Osimeh, O’Shane Stewart, Miles Mitchell-Nelson (Jimmy Wallace, 77), Sam Knock, Terrell Egbri, Sam Brogan, Charlie Kelman (Issa Mpenga, 67), Matt Rush (Ahmet Biler, 70), Freddy Eastwood Jnr. Substitutes not used: Callum Taylor, Alex Bragg.
Goals: Egbri (2), Kelman (14), Knock (26), Rush (44), Mpenga (69), Eastwood (71).