In their first match since the dramatic FA Youth Cup First Round tie against Leyton Orient, Blues had struggled in the first half as Terrell Egbri’s fortunate opener was cancelled out by Sam Bennett.
Jon Benton’s penalty early in the second period appeared to settle the teenage Shrimpers, but Joe Neal scored a late leveller before Kelman’s unbelievable intervention for the second game in succession.
Youth team coach Dave Huzzey revealed that he feared the side’s winning run was over when Neal scored in the second minute of injury time: “I thought we had great chances to finish the game off at 2-1 and we didn’t do it,” he said.
“By not doing that you always allow your opponents a chance and they took it. I was disappointed because I thought we had done enough to win the game; in previous weeks we had finished those chances and this week we didn’t, and it nearly cost us.”
Callum Taylor was the first Blues player to get a real touch on the ball when he claimed a hooked close-range finish high above his head before Southend had their first attempt on goal in the 15th minute through Rush, who twisted and turned to beat a defender before forcing the goalkeeper to make a sprawling save.
Blues struggled to get themselves into the game to start with but grew into the game and shortly after Kelman fired at the goalkeeper following some good link-up play with Rush, but when Blues took the lead in the 25th minute it came on the counter-attack after Taylor had saved a free-kick and Jimmy Wallace cleared. Watson shifted the ball on to Kelman and he released Terrell Egbri, who scored for the sixth game in succession when his cross deceived the goalkeeper and dropped inside the far post.
Cambridge responded quickly and Bennett levelled in the 27th minute. The U’s were given too much space on the left-hand side to build a move, and eventually a driven centre was converted at the back post to make it 1-1.
Benton dragged a shot wide and then chipped into the goalkeeper’s gloves when he had good options to either side, with Stewart then crowded out in the 44th minute after latching onto a Watson pass. However, the real late drama was reserved for the second period as Kelman stole the show once again.
It had looked likely that Southend would claim victory after an impressive start to the second half. Matt Rush went close inside the opening couple of minutes after Chandler had put him into space on the right-hand edge of the penalty area, but his shot was repelled by the legs of the goalkeeper.
Rush also achieved a half-century of appearances for the U18s in the fixture, and he was unlucky not to net again when Courtney Watson, a second-year trialist from Crystal Palace, found him in the area with a beautiful reverse pass. Again it was the legs of the goalkeeper that denied the forward.
From the rebound Jon Benton attempted to get a shot away, but he was tripped in the process and the referee awarded Blues a penalty. Benton himself stepped up to clinically convert the spot-kick and mark his 50th youth team appearance with his tenth goal of the season.
In the 57th minute Blues hit the woodwork after Watson had cut inside onto his right foot to curl a shot beyond the Cambridge custodian. Rush stuck out a right boot and may have got the faintest of touches to the ball, but it hit the inside of the right-hand post and bounced out, with a defender clearing off the toes of Kelman.
Callum Taylor made a smart save shortly afterwards, but Freddy Eastwood – who replaced Watson with 25 minutes remaining – uncharacteristically hurried an effort from a Stewart pass midway through the opening period and later snatched at a shot after the goalkeeper had beaten away Kelman’s attempt at the near post. Rush also sent an acrobatic overhead bicycle kick over from a Benton set-piece.
With two minutes of the regulation ninety remaining, substitute Sam Brogan was called upon to clear the ball off the goal-line after a stabbed effort was sent through the penalty area from a corner. But no-one could stop Neal’s strike from hitting the back of the net as he rifled home via the right-hand post after a cross from a right-wing throw had been knocked down into his path.
Cambridge’s goal had been coming. In the 86th minute an attacker nodded over from a left-sided free-kick, and sixty seconds later Blues skipper Sam Knock had to execute an excellent sliding challenge in the penalty area after another U’s player had skipped past Reiss Chandler.
However, Blues did not lose faith in their own ability. Goalkeeper Harry Seaden, who was blameless for the equaliser, encouraged Kelman to go and a grab a winner, and that was exactly what he did. Blues recovered their composure and set about claiming the three points that would lift them to second in the EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference table.
From the restart, O’Shane Stewart rolled the ball into Kelman’s feet from the centre circle. The United States youth international embarked on a determined run before setting himself and smashing the ball into the top left-hand corner of the net from around 30 yards out. The whole move took barely five seconds and sparked jubilant scenes as the whole squad celebrated together.
Huzzey was full of praise for his young forward: “Charlie is a first-year scholar and he’s still got another year in the youth team. He’s got that in his locker to produce those moments because he has a real calmness in front of goal, and also his finishing technique is really good. He locks his body in and hits straight through the ball. We’re working on different types of finishing with him, but he’s got that one off to a tee!”
“I was thinking about what I was going to say to the players after the game and focussing on key moments of the game when we should’ve taken our chances, but when Charlie scored my emotions were the same as they were last Thursday. It was an unbelievable goal; it’s one of the best goals I’ve ever seen in a youth team game simply because of the timing and the importance, but also the finish as well. The same lad has done it again.”
“Although it wasn’t one of our better performances, we came away with a win and, from my experience of youth team football, that’s what the best youth teams have done. Sometimes when you don’t perform well and still get the win, it means a little bit more and, if we can start putting performances back to where they were, as we did in the second half, we’ve got a great chance,” claimed Huzzey.
Southend United U18s: Callum Taylor (Harry Seaden, 75), Reiss Chandler, Ide Osimeh, O’Shane Stewart, Sam Knock, Jimmy Wallace, Terrell Egbri, Jon Benton (Sam Brogan, 82), Charlie Kelman, Matt Rush (Issa Mpenga, 90), Courtney Watson (Freddy Eastwood Jnr, 65). Substitute not used: Ben Dabbs.
Goals: Egbri (25), Benton (48, pen), Kelman (90+3).
Cautioned: Kelman (89, foul tackle).