Southend United U18s were narrowly beaten by Category Two Academy Millwall, 3-2, in their latest pre-season friendly fixture at Boots & Laces.
Blues led the match 2-1 at half-time thanks to a well-worked Terrell Egbri goal and a sublime strike by Issa Mpangea just before the break, but Millwall netted shortly after the interval and then earned their victory a quarter-of-an-hour from the end of a high-quality encounter.
Dave Huzzey’s squad made a good start to the fixture and they carved out the first chance in the sixth minute when two of the club’s second-year scholars combined. Jon Benton picked out the run of Matt Rush and he turned inside a Millwall defender before forcing the goalkeeper into a full-length save to his left-hand side.
The visitors had looked lively themselves in the early stages, keeping a youthful Southend back-line busy, and a forward opened the scoring in the 17th minute when he snuck between Ben Dabbs and Jimmy Walker before guiding his finish past Harry Seaden.
Blues almost responded immediately when Egbri chased down a long Ide Osimeh clearance and forced a defender to concede a corner, from which a Dabbs header drew an outstanding save by the Lions custodian falling to his right to push the ball around the post.
In the 26th minute another brilliant stop thwarted Benton, who had unleashed a fierce left-footed strike from the edge of the penalty area. Seven minutes later Blues did equalise. First-year midfielder Sam Brogan pinged the ball out to the right flank, from where Rush delivered a fine centre and Egbri arrived at the far post to send a measured finish between the goalkeeper and a defender.
Two minutes later another long pass, this time by full-back Osimeh down the left-hand side, found Rush on the opposite wing and he brought the goalkeeper out of his net before sending an audacious curling effort towards the goal from a tight angle. Unfortunately a covering defender denied the attacker from netting.
Rush then curled narrowly wide after exchanging a series of intricate passes on the edge of the penalty area before the Shrimpers pressure finally told three minutes before the break. O’Shane Stewart, skippering the side, drew the attention of three Millwall players on the edge of the ‘D’ before offloading to Mpangea, who arrowed a superb shot into the top right-hand corner of the net off the underside of the crossbar.
It was no less than the hosts deserved, although the width of the woodwork prevented the Lions from equalising immediately from the kick-off when a header was directed against the crossbar and out. The follow-up was then nodded inches over and Blues were able to go in 2-1 up at half-time.
Millwall levelled two minutes after the interval when a left-wing cross was volleyed in from close-range, but Blues stuck to their task despite the visitors upping their intensity. Opportunities for the homesters were restricted to set-pieces, whilst Millwall went close with a long-range effort midway through the second half.
Southend were organised well defensively, but they were finally undone by a right-wing corner in the 76th minute which was met by a towering header planted into the bottom left-hand corner of the net. A Millwall forward turned to fire inches wide in the closing stages, but there was plenty of encouragement for Dave Huzzey’s squad ahead of a residential week at the Five Lakes resort, during which they will play West Ham United.