Southend United won their first BBC Essex Senior Cup fixture for almost six years as they ran in five unanswered goals in the second half against Harlow Town having trailed 2-0 at the interval.
Blues had lost five consecutive Third Round ties going into the encounter – including two against the Hawks – but they battled back after Tom Hitchcock and JJ Da Cruz had put the hosts in front to record a resounding 5-2 triumph. Norman Wabo bagged a brace whilst Isaac Hutchinson, Harry Phillips and substitute Eren Kinali also made it onto the scoresheet.
U23s coach Kevin Maher named a young starting line-up which had limited first-team experience in the shape of goalkeeper Nathan Bishop, midfielders Michael Klass and Renei Batlokwa plus goalscorers Wabo and Hutchinson. Frenchman Amadou Ba was amongst the substitutes.
Harlow went into the match bottom of the Isthmian League Premier Division, but they approached the game with an element of confidence and Christian Scales brought a smart near-post stop from Bishop inside the opening sixty seconds. Southend struggled to get their high-tempo passing game going in the early stages, even if Town goalkeeper Richard Hayward was forced to turn a fierce Hutchinson strike around the post.
The home side took the lead in the 12th minute. Forward Hitchcock received the ball on the left-hand edge of the penalty area and he left Bishop with no chance as he curled a 16-yard finish around the young custodian and into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
Defender Taylor Curran did well to keep the ball from Louis Yuill as he was forced into his own penalty area after a quarter-of-an-hour, and the first signs of encouragement from the Shrimpers arrived a couple of moments later when Phillips slipped the ball into the path of Wabo and his strong shot required a parried save from Hayward.
Blues were just beginning to get back into the stride, with Klass hitting a swerving strike inches over the crossbar from 25 yards out in the 21st minute, when they found themselves pinned back in their own half again. Bishop was forced to come out of his area to head clear and Yuill saw his effort deflected wide before Bishop pushed out Toby Adaja’s effort at the far post from the ensuing corner.
At the other end Hutchinson almost got a toe to a fizzing Klass centre before Wabo spurned the best chance of the opening period for Southend. The precocious striker beat Haywrd to the ball just outside the penalty area and, although his touch sent him wide of the goal, he should have hit the target with his finish, which instead was rolled into the side-netting.
As a consequence, Harlow were able to double their lead four minutes before the half-time interval. This time Hitchcock was the provider, retrieving the ball on the left-hand edge of the penalty area before digging out a cross to the far post, where Da Cruz was on hand to meet the ball with a diving header that he guided into the right-hand portion of the net.
Blues were unable to respond before the break as Phillips steered a shot wide of the left-hand upright and Wabo saw an effort charged down in stoppage time, but they did score almost immediately after the restart as Wabo found his goalscoring touch. His run saw him cut inside a defender before he managed to nonchalantly hoist the ball into the top left-hand corner with the outside of his right boot from six yards out.
Within a couple of minutes he had tested Hayward with a ferocious 25-yard attempt before Hutchinson dragged an effort wide from a similar distance. Southend went even closer in the 53rd minute as Hayward seemed to misjudge a Phillips shot from the edge of the penalty area but somehow managed to tip the ball against the crossbar.
There was a brief anxious moment for Blues when Tom Clifford was forced to effect a well-timed tackle on Adaja as he entered the penalty area, but they soon put the pressure back on and Hutchinson equalised just before the hour mark. The former Brighton & Hove Albion scholar collected a Phillips pass and arrowed a shot into the bottom left-hand corner of the net from the edge of the penalty area to make it 2-2.
Just two further minutes had passed when Blues edged ahead for the first time. The intelligent Phillips darted into the penalty area and drew a foul from Yuill as he prepared to shoot. Although he saw his spot-kick saved by Hayward, Phillips was alert to the rebound and tapped home beyond the desperate goalkeeper.
Wabo then gave the visitors a degree of comfort with the third goal inside a five-minute period either side of the hour mark. Again Phillips was involved as he spotted the striker’s run and picked him out with an inch-perfect pass, and the 20-year-old rounded Hayward before stroking the ball into the net.
Phillips almost made it 5-2 midway through the second period, but he fired narrowly wide of the left-hand post after Hayward had beaten away Ba’s attempt, and the shotstopper made another parried stop in the 72nd minute as Phillips connected with Wabo’s square pass.
Harlow were restricted to half-chances as Hitchcock attempted to double his personal tally with an angled finish that drifted wide and Da Cruz volleyed wide from Reece Hackney’s corner at the far post. Adaja did have the ball in the back of the net seven minutes before the end, but his effort was ruled out for offside.
Klass saw another attempt saved by Hayward as the match moved into three minutes of stoppage time, but Blues saved the best goal for last as Eren Kinali rounded off the victory with an outrageous piece of skill. He controlled skipper Rob Howard’s long pass before dragging the ball underneath his foot to simultaneous beat three defenders and then stab into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
Blues left north-west Essex with a 5-2 triumph and a place in the last 16 of the Essex Senior Cup. Southend will learn their opponents in the Fourth Round on Wednesday evening when the draw is made at 6:20pm on BBC Essex.
Southend United U23s: Nathan Bishop, Dan Humphreys, Tom Clifford, Zak Pianim (Joe Bedford, 80), Taylor Curran, Rob Howard, Renei Batlokwa (Amadou Ba, 46), Michael Klass, Norman Wabo, Harry Phillips, Isaac Hutchinson (Eren Kinali, 80). Substitutes not used: Josh Bexon, Sam Knock.
Goals: Wabo (46, 64), Hutchinson (59), Phillips (61), Kinali (90+2).