Southend United U23s suffered a 3-1 defeat at Plymouth Argyle in their latest Central League outing.
Following their dramatic progress into the final of the Central League Cup Southern Section against Bristol Rovers on Friday afternoon, Kevin Maher's side made the long trip to Home Park to take on the Pilgrims. Despite Dan Walker's second goal in as many matches Blues left empty-handed, thanks primarily to Luke Jephcott's brace.
Walker - who made his full debut for Bostik League North Division side Aveley on Saturday - started up front alongside Amadou Ba, whilst Nathan Bishop featured in goal after a long spell as an unused substitute for the first team. Sonny Coutts and Dan Matsuzaka teamed up in the centre of defence, whilst penalty hero against Bristol Rovers, Joe Bedford, continued his return from injury in midfield.
Blues slipped behind in just the second minute of the encounter when second-year scholar Jephcott netted his first goal of the afternoon. Alex Battle set up namesake Fletcher for an effort that Bishop parried into the path of Jephcott and the youngster fired home the rebound.
Bedford threatened an immediate response when Bedford won the ball from defender Ryan Law and saw his fierce attempt charged down by Elliott Crawford, and instead Argyle doubled their lead on 21 minutes when Jephcott volleyed home Billy Craske's cross via the inside of the post to leave Bishop with no chance.
Four minutes later Southend halved their deficit through Walker, who spent time on loan in Austria with third tier club FC Kitzbuhel earlier in the campaign. The tall centre-forward nodded home a Ba cross from close-range to make it 2-1, and Blues could have equalised on the half-hour mark when Ba's deflected strike was brilliantly turned away by home goalkeeper Michael Cooper.
Bishop had to be at his best early in the second period to prevent Plymouth extending their advantage as Battle again combined with Fletcher and the young gloveman made himself big to make the save.
Ba nearly made the hosts pay when he dispossessed Law and smashed a shot into the side-netting from an acute angle, and he followed that by clipping the crossbar with a cross-shot before Tom Clifford's free-kick almost crept into the corner of the net during a dominant period for the visitors.
Plymouth made it 3-1 against the run of play in the 78th minute as Fletcher controlled a pass from Battle and unleashed a fierce strike. Bishop got a hand to the ball, but he was powerless to stop the shot finding the back of the net.
Maher made a series of substitutions inside the final ten minutes to ensure all the players who travelled received some game-time but, despite the introduction of the likes of Sewa Marah, Emile Acquah and Eren Kinali, there was no way back. Blues U23s are next in Central League action on Wednesday 11th April, away to AFC Bournemouth.
Southend United U23s: Nathan Bishop (Harry Seaden, 85), Dan Humphreys, Tom Clifford (Sewa Marah, 86), Rob Howard (Emile Acquah, 73), Dan Matsuzaka, Sonny Coutts (Taylor Curran, 88), Renei Batlokwa, Joe Bedford, Dan Walker (Eren Kinali, 86 mins), Amadou Ba, Nico Cotton.