Southend United U23s continued their preparations for the new season with a 4-2 victory over Brentwood Town in a hastily-arranged friendly at Boots & Laces on Saturday morning.
The Bostik League North Division outfit were in need of a game after two matches were cancelled during the week and Kevin Maher’s squad were happy to oblige. However, that’s where Blues’ charity finished as they stormed into a 4-0 lead inside half-an-hour courtesy of goals by Zak Pianim and Norman Wabo, plus a brace from the impressive Harry Phillips. Tony Stokes and Alfie Hilton scored consolations for Brentwood.
Southend sped out of the blocks and were 2-0 up after just six minutes of the contest in south-east Essex. Wabo won a corner with a deflected shot in the fifth minute and the delivery from Phillips was cushioned into the path of Pianim by Emile Acquah. The central defender made no mistake by swivelling to send his shot into the top right-hand corner.
Sixty seconds later the hosts had doubled their advantage. Wabo, who consistently found the net last season and ended the campaign with a spell at National League club Ebbsfleet United, seized on a mistake in the Brentwood defence and rounded goalkeeper Rob Budd before threading his finish between the posts from an acute angle.
There was no let-up in the tenacity of Southend’s play in the opening stages, and Phillips curled over in the 12th minute after receiving the ball from Rob Howard on the right-hand side before Isaac Hutchinson engineered some space on the edge of the penalty area for a fierce shot that was charged down by a defender.
After a quarter-of-an-hour a quickly-taken Phillips free-kick released Wabo down the inside-left channel, but Budd did well to deflect his shot around the left-hand post. Unfortunately for the visitors that merely delayed the inevitable and, a minute later, Phillips combined with Acquah, who held the ball up well before finding the playmaker with his return pass, to caress the ball home.
There was an anxious moment at the other end midway through the first half when Tony Stokes was thwarted by Josh Bexon before sending the follow-up over the crossbar, but Blues continued to attack with pace and guile, and Wabo prodded the ball over after beating Budd to Howard’s right-wing cross in the 25th minute.
As the game approached the half-hour mark, Hutchinson steered his shot wide after fine build-up play by Phillips and Eren Kinali, but Southend were not to be denied and Phillips netted his second when he curled home from Wabo’s pass to make it 4-0.
Maher was imploring his side to maintain their intensity, and Wabo dragged a shot wide after Taylor Curran and Pianim had brought the ball stylishly out of defence. New Brentwood signing Tobi Joseph then found Stokes in the 34th minute, but Bexon grabbed the strong shot to his stomach.
Phillips could have completed his hat-trick shortly afterwards when his mesmerising run culminated in a shot that was blocked on the goal-line, with Hutchinson’s follow-up cleared to safety, and instead Brentwood pulled a goal back two minutes before half-time when Joseph’s strong run saw him slip the ball outside to Stokes, who steadied himself before firing past Bexon.
Brentwood maintained their momentum early in the second period and they caught out the Southend defence with a swiftly-taken set-piece of their own. Hilton spotted that Bexon was still organising his wall and angled the ball into the net from 25 yards out to make it 4-2.
The visitors were probing in search of a third goal and, when Acquah nodded a Dan Humphreys cross wide in the 58th minute, it came against the run of play. Joe Bedford and Wabo then linked up to set-up Acquah eight minutes later, but this time a fierce strike was blocked out for a throw-in.
Southend had ridden out the storm, and they finished the fixture almost as strongly as they had started it. With seven minutes remaining, Phillips left a trail of defenders in his wake after collecting the ball from Kinali and then found substitute Sewa Marah, who scuffed his shot towards Budd.
Two minutes later Phillips received the ball from Curran and forced Budd into a splendid fingertip save, and the custodian followed that by repelling Kinali’s firm finish from Matt Rush’s deep cross. Second-year scholar Rush also saw an attempt saved whilst Humphreys had a goal ruled out for offside, but there was no addition to the 4-2 scoreline.
Blues U23s continue to get ready for the 2018/19 campaign with a trip to Colchester United on Tuesday before rounding off pre-season with an away fixture at Lowestoft Town on Saturday afternoon.
Southend United U23s: Josh Bexon, Rob Howard (Ide Osimeh, 80), Dan Humphreys, Joe Bedford, Taylor Curran, Zak Pianim, Eren Kinali, Harry Phillips (Matt Rush, 85), Emile Acquah, Norman Wabo (Sewa Marah, 66), Isaac Hutchinson.