Isaac Hutchinson netted four second-half goals and Amadou Ba also got on the scoresheet as Southend United U23s defeated Waltham Abbey 5-2 to reach the Quarter-Finals of the BBC Essex Senior Cup.
Blues hadn’t won a match in the competition for over five years until their Third Round triumph over Harlow Town, and they repeated their feat of battling back from a 2-0 half-time deficit to claim an identical 5-2 triumph at Capershotts. Rob Clark and Billy Holland had put the Abbotts ahead, but Hutchinson grabbed the headlines with a superb four-goal salvo.
“It was a very enjoyable evening in the end,” claimed the former Brighton & Hove Albion youngster. “We didn’t take our chances in the first half, and I think we played into their hands a little bit. We took too many touches on the ball, and they were obviously really up for it so they were getting tight to us and we weren’t very smart about it. In the second half we moved the ball quicker and killed them off.”
Michael Klass was the only member of the first-team squad from the previous evening’s League One win over Scunthorpe United to feature as youth team prospects Harry Seaden and Sam Knock were handed starts. Ba and Eren Kinali had done enough in their previous Senior Cup appearances to force their way into coach Kevin Maher’s starting line-up.
Southend could have taken the lead in the seventh minute as exciting forward Norman Wabo was presented with the first opportunity of the evening from a Harry Phillips pass. Wabo drew a good near-post save from goalkeeper Lamar Johnson, who sixty seconds later raced off his goal-line to intercept a through-ball intended for Ba.
Despite having enjoyed the better of the early chances, Blues fell behind in the tenth minute. Clark lined up a free-kick around 25 yards from goal and, having floated the ball over the defensive wall, Seaden appeared to misjudge the flight and the effort slipped through his grasp. Although Holland made sure, the ball seemed to have crossed the line before he thumped it into the net.
Wabo sent Johnson sprawling on the sodden surface shortly afterwards, but the young Shrimpers fell further behind in the 26th minute when Knock tripped Daniel Aristidou in the penalty area and referee Farai Hallam pointed to the spot. Abbotts skipper Holland stepped up to send Seaden the wrong way and double the advantage for the Bostik League South Central side.
Within seconds Blues could have halved the deficit, but Phillips curled his attempt from the edge of the penalty area against the right-hand post from Wabo’s lay-off, and Wabo himself spurned a good opportunity just after the half-hour mark after Kinali’s persistence had earned him a sight of goal. The striker could have shot instantly, but he cut back and allowed defender Reece Morgan to clear.
The visitors ended the first half strongly and Johnson made a comfortable save from a Phillips free-kick in a useful position before Kinali set up Klass for a ferocious strike that was deflected onto the roof of the net. Ba then appeared set to bear down one-on-one with Johnson in the 44th minute when defender Rimmell Daniel recovered brilliantly to poke the ball back to his goalkeeper.
Hutchinson appreciated the threat posed by Southend’s part-time opponents and identified the areas that the away team had to work on in the second period: “Physically they are harder because the fact that they are adults makes a big difference. Even though they are not as good technically, physically they are strong and they know what to do,” he stated.
“They know how to deal with players when they take too many touches, so you have got to be smart about it. It makes us think quicker. When you go up to League One or higher, you need to think quickly, so games like this definitely help.”
Maher introduced Miles Mitchell-Nelson in place of Klass at the interval, pushing Zak Pianim into midfield in a move designed to release Hutchinson further forwards. The attacking midfielder obliged and had reduced the arrears within three minutes of the restart when Ba’s fizzing centre was touched back to him by Phillips at the far post and he slammed the ball home from eight yards out.
It was just the spark that Southend needed and, after Wabo had slashed wide from another teasing Ba delivery, Hutchinson equalised with an outstanding second in the 54th minute. The ex-England U16s youngster picked up possession just inside the Waltham Abbey half and, with amazing vision, spotted Johnson fractionally off his goal-line, sending a lob from almost 50 yards spiralling over the back-tracking custodian.
“I had a bit of space and I saw him off his line, so I thought I’d have a go,” he explained afterwards. “To be fair, I don’t regret it and I’ll remember that for the rest of my life. When I hit it I thought it definitely had a chance and it was the best I could’ve hit it, but I thought it went over. Everyone was surprised and I assumed it went in! I think it was the best goal I’ve ever scored.”
From that stage Blues were unplayable at times and, on the hour mark, they edged in front. Kinali could have scored from Wabo’s cut-back, but his strong attempt from seven yards out was deflected wide by Ross Dedman, allowing Phillips to deliver a dangerous corner. The dead-ball was flicked on to Ba at the back post and he swivelling his body in mid-air to half-volley home.
Kinali failed to convert again when he was picked out by Rob Howard’s 65th minute cross, and Ba would have been a touch fortunate if the ball had ricocheted into the net as he charged down a Johnson clearance a couple of moments later. Seaden made a good near-post stop shortly after that, but Southend also threatened again when Ba stabbed wide following good work by Phillips and Howard on the left flank.
With ten minutes remaining, Hutchinson completed his second U23s hat-trick of the season and gave Southend some breathing space. Again the source was a Phillips corner as the playmaker’s far post delivery was nodded out to the edge of the penalty area and Hutchinson rifled the ball clinically into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
Ba failed to connect with a Hutchinson free-kick four minutes from the end, but Hutchinson grabbed his fourth goal in the final minute of the regulation ninety after Kinali’s industry led to him tapping the ball back to his team-mate, who swept the ball through the gloves of Johnson from around ten yards out.
“It’s nice to kick on,” said Hutchinson. “The second goal was once-in-a-lifetime, so to kick on and get more goals was good, and to win the game was even better. The main goal is to get in the first team and all I can do is keep playing well and hope that the gaffer recognises it.”
There were chances for Southend to add a sixth goal as Acquah nodded into Johnson’s gloves and the experienced shotstopper also denied Ba in stoppage time before Kinali’s follow-up was deflected wide. Nonetheless, Blues were able to celebrate a 5-2 win and a berth in the Quarter-Final draw.
Southend United U23s: Harry Seaden, Dan Humphreys, Rob Howard, Michael Klass (Miles Mitchell-Nelson, 46), Zak Piamin, Sam Knock, Eren Kinali, Isaac Hutchinson, Amadou Ba, Norman Wabo (Emile Acquah, 85), Harry Phillips (Renei Batlokwa, 83). Substitutes not used: Callum Taylor, O’Shane Stewart.
Goals: Hutchinson (48, 55, 80, 90), Ba (60).