Southend United U23s coach Kevin Maher believes his squad have put down a marker after defeating Fulham 2-1 in the first pre-season friendly of 2018/19.
Blues netted either side of the half-time interval through forward Norman Wabo and winger Eren Kinali to defeat their Premier League-bound opponents, and Maher believes that the performance was indicative of the work the squad has put in since returning to the club on June 28th.
“It was very impressive,” he claimed. “I think it shows the work we have put in; we’ve had a really hard week of training and then to come and play in these conditions – it was really hot and tough out there and some of the lads had to play 90 minutes - is a testament to them.”
“I’m really pleased with how they went about their business. Fulham are a very good side and they’ve set their standard for how they go about pre-season now for me.”
“There are a few niggles and knocks as you would expect, but hopefully the toughness of pre-season will build some resilience as well. If they are going to have careers they are going to have to be resilient to playing every week and training every day at a high tempo. The attitude has been spot-on,” he added.
Wabo converted a Joe Bedford pass around five minutes before half-time before Kinali – who played a part in Southend’s Central League Cup success last season by featuring as an emergency goalkeeper in the semi-final against Bristol Rovers – steered home a Harry Phillips corner early in the second period.
A number of squad members from last year’s U18s team have been retained at the club as third-year scholars, whilst Rob Howard – who featured extensively for the youth team having been released by Colchester United – and Isaac Hutchinson, who trialled with Blues after leaving Brighton & Hove Albion, have been brought in.
Maher is pleased with the squad that has been assembled and is expecting some selection dilemmas: “The ones that have stepped up look like they’re comfortable at this level from what I’ve seen, and we’ve added Rob and Isaac as well. We’ve probably got more competition for places now with the bigger numbers, so hopefully that pushes the standard up with the quality we’ve got.”
“One or two of the U18s came over and played today including Charlie Kelman, who came on, which is brilliant and we’ll keep doing that on merit. We’ll keep demanding a lot of the players because we’re trying to get them careers.”
Blues next face Bostik League North Division Aveley on Thursday evening (7:45pm kick-off) and will then travel to the Netherlands for a week before returning to face the likes of Bedford Town, Bishop’s Stortford and Lowestoft Town before the Central League campaign gets underway.
Former Shrimpers midfielder Maher explained the reasoning behind the European trip: “We’ve got five or six days in Holland. We’re going to do some work there and it’s a chance to get away from here and get the players all together. They’ll do some bonding, but it’s going to be a tough week of training. We’ll be doing some double sessions and we’ve got a game out there as well.”
“It’s a good change of scenery and we can get some more detail into them about how we want to play compared to this week, which has been more fitness-based. It will be good and I’m looking forward to it. It will be good for them to get a taste of being away from here as well,” he concluded.