U18s forward Matt Rush described scoring the equalising goal in Southend United’s 4-3 victory over Leyton Orient as “the best moment of my youth team career” as Blues fought back from a two-goal deficit to win in extra time.
Rush netted his 14th competitive goal of the season in the FA Youth Cup First Round tie in the third minute of stoppage time to haul his side level after they had trailed by two goals with just five minutes of the regulation ninety remaining.
Charlie Kelman then found a winning goal in the final minute of extra time to book a Second Round appointment with Charlton Athletic or Whitehawk, and an exhausted Rush was delighted with the result after the final whistle.
“I’m so tired, but I’m so proud of everyone,” he beamed. “At 3-1, to be honest, we looked down and out. We weren’t creating a lot, but I think this team is special and this game showed that because we came from nowhere and scored two goals, one in the 93rd minute and then in extra time in the last minute. It shows we’ve got players who can play under pressure. As a team we are progressing a lot and it was very special.”
Rush has made plenty of headlines this season after taking his youth team tally to 17 goals in 49 matches, helping the team to record six straight wins and eight victories from their last nine games. However, he was keen to pay tribute to O’Shane Stewart, who contributed a crucial goal just before half-time, and the defence for keeping the team in the game.
“It was very important for O’Shane to score because if it had stayed 2-0 I don’t know if we’d’ve managed to get back, and if it’d been 3-0 it would’ve been game over,” Rush claimed. “Osh got an important goal and, even though they started better than us, we know that we’re better than any team if we play how we can play. That didn’t really happen today, but we got the win and that’s all we care about really.”
“I think we’ve got special players and, as a team, everyone is good friends off the pitch. There a no differences, so for us to come back, you can see in the celebrations how much everyone cares about it and cares about each other. Last year I don’t think we’d’ve come back, but this year we’ve got such a special bond between everyone that we were able to do that.”
“We’re very confident defensively as well because we’ve got a lot better at that. The defence kept us in it at times because we didn’t have the greatest start. We got our goals, which we knew we would because we can score goals against anyone,” he added.
Rush showed excellent composure and a clinical eye for goal to make it 3-3, and he ran through his thought process as he sent the tie into an additional thirty minutes: “I was thinking, ‘Have a good touch and test the ‘keeper because it could go in.’ It was the last minute and it was the best moment of my youth team career. To keep us in The FA Youth Cup was brilliant and the celebrations were unbelievable.”
“It’s good to see people in the crowd wanting to watch us play. Hopefully we’ll get a few more now, but it’s different when you score because you can hear everyone and that’s completely different to Boots & Laces when you’re just with your team-mates celebrating. Hearing the fans was really good and that’s what everyone wants to hear in the future when you hopefully play in the first team,” he said.
Blues roused themselves for one last effort, and Rush was one of a number of players who could have settled the tie in Southend’s favour during extra time. The honour eventually fell to Rush’s former Bromfords School colleague Kelman, and the second-year striker described his emotions at that moment.
“We do a lot of fitness work and we are a fit team. Dave and Sim at the start of the season said that we wanted to be the fittest team in the league, and it think that was proved. There were a lot of players going down with cramp but we were able to stay in the game mentally and that’s what got us the win.”
“We’re a rollercoaster of a team, but that’s what makes us so special. They could easily have scored but we got a bit of luck, which you need to win, and we got some more with our goal, so that was good. I’m not complaining.”
“I just thought when he scored that I wanted to celebrate and lay down! That’s what we are about. We did think it was going to go to penalties, but we thought we were going to be out at 3-1 so it just shows that we have got it in us and it was a great finish. We’re really happy.”
Now Rush is hoping that Charlton Athletic progress in their First Round tie against Whitehawk to set up a clash between the club that he represents and the club that he, and his father, support. “It would mean a lot to me,” he declared.
“It’s the perfect draw and it’s what I wanted. Charlton are my club and I go there as much as I can, but when I step on the pitch I want Southend to win. My dad was raised there. I’ve had a season ticket for five years, but now we play on Saturdays I just go to whatever games I can.”
“It would be very, very special for me, and special to get a goal if I could, but we think we can beat them and we think we can beat any team that we come up against. There was no celebration when I scored against them last time but there would have to be a celebration this time."