Southend United U18s led twice but eventually succumbed to an 8-4 defeat against Fulham at a scorching Boots & Laces on Saturday morning.
New first-year scholar Charlie Kelman opened the scoring for Southend inside the first ten minutes and, although that was quickly wiped out, Matt Rush slotted home the rebound after his initial penalty was saved to restore the advantage. Fulham led 3-2 at half-time, but schoolboy Tundai Quamina pulled a goal back with a smart finish before Jon Benton netted a spot-kick.
“I’m disappointed with the result and the amount of goals they scored but there were some positives to take out of the game and the first half performance especially,” reported youth team coach Dave Huzzey. “After the first five minutes we had a good 25 minutes in the first half where we played some really positive stuff and there are some things to build on.”
Forward Kelman put Blues in front early on when he beat a defender to latch onto Freddy Eastwood’s lofted pass and guided the ball beyond the visiting goalkeeper. When Fulham equalised the goal was against the run of play, and Kelman almost edged the hosts ahead again, only to drag an effort wide after good work by Eastwood and O’Shane Stewart.
Southend’s excellent play was rewarded when Rush was upended in the penalty area and he brushed himself down to take the spot-kick. Although his twelve-yarder was repelled by the Fulham custodian, he stayed alert to half-volley the follow-up home. Unfortunately the Cottagers levelled again, this time stabbing in from a corner, before taking the lead shortly before the break.
“In the second half there were glimpses of it going forward, but we were just a bit naïve at the back. We were young but we just needed to be a little bit more composed and maybe more calm in making decisions when either playing out from the back or defending deep in our own half,” said Huzzey.
Blues came under more pressure after the interval and Harry Seaden was beaten by a strong strike at his near post before stepping up to feature for the U23s in their simultaneous friendly. Huzzey had made a raft of changes at half-time and, although Taylor had to make a smart stop with his legs soon after coming on, Blues were back in the game midway through the second period.
One of seven schoolboys to feature in the squad, Quamina strode clear of the Fulham back-line to race onto Benton’s through-ball and he coolly arrowed home to make it 4-3. Unfortunately the revival was short-lived, despite Issa Mpangea seeing his effort brilliantly finger-tipped wide, when two quick penalties put Fulham three goals clear.
A low finish angled across Taylor – who had guessed correctly and nearly kept out the first penalty – made it 7-3 before Blues trialist Declan Frith was adjudged to have been brought down. Benton stepped up to slam home the spot-kick, but the visitors had the final say when they netted from a corner to round off the scoring at 8-4.
Huzzey could not conceal his disappointment with the result, but he was keen to emphasise that there was plenty of time for the squad to continue their preparations ahead of the new campaign: “I think we’re starting in one of the most positive positions that we have in a long while. We’ve used seven U16s in the game today who have had experience of youth team football, let alone the first-years.”
“We’re in a strong position in terms of them knowing what we want, we just need to make sure we get them up to the fitness levels we want and understanding the differences this year about how we want to play in and out of possession. I’m confident we’ve got a strong group here.”
“We used 24 players today, which is more than we’ve ever used in a pre-season fixture, but we wanted to do it right and we took on some advice from our sports scientists and our strength and conditioning department, and I feel this week has gone very well. From that side, today has also gone well,” he added.
Blues next face another Category One club in Reading, away, next weekend, before lining up against the likes of Millwall, West Ham United and Brighton & Hove Albion ahead of their season-opener against Barnet on August 4th. Huzzey explained the reasoning behind a tough pre-season campaign.
“The majority of the sides that we are going to be playing are Category One clubs and, with us being a Cat Three side, that’s always going to be a test. We want to make sure we’re testing the boys, and we’ll be playing against Cat Three teams throughout the year so this will be a test. We’re also playing Brentwood Town’s men’s side to prepare us for the physical side of the game.”
“The boys have been brilliant, not just in their ability but in their attitude. It’s a good group to work with and, as long as everyone understands this is just the start of a journey, we’ll be fine. If this was the last game before the season we’d have a problem; if this was during the season then we’d have a problem but this was the first game,” he declared.