Southend United U18s continued their free-scoring form with a superb 8-3 victory away to Luton Town as they claimed a fourth consecutive EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference win.
Blues reached the mid-point of the season with a sixth success in their opening ten matches and sit third in the table as the league campaign takes a back seat to exploits in the EFL Youth Alliance Cup and The FA Youth Cup over the coming weeks.
Matt Rush set the side on their way midway through the first half before three goals in ten minutes – by Jon Benton, Miles Mitchell-Nelson and Charlie Kelman – stretched the lead to four before the break. Rush’s tenth youth team goal of the season was backed by Freddy Eastwood Jnr’s brace and a stunning Terrell Egbri finish in the second half to round off the triumph.
Dave Huzzey named an unchanged starting eleven for the clash at Ely Way against a Luton team that began the game one place and one point behind them. The Hatters had the benefit of playing downhill in the opening period and had the first sighting of goal in the seventh minute when a forward dragged a shot wide of the left-hand post.
Eastwood saw an effort deflected over from O’Shane Stewart’s pass a couple of minutes later but Luton enjoyed the greater territorial advantage in the early stages and, when an attacker pulled himself away from Reiss Chandler in the 12th minute, his square pass was stabbed wide of the right-hand post from the edge of the penalty area by a team-mate.
Southend’s goalscoring has got them out of a number of difficult situations this season, and Rush put the visitors in front in the 20th minute. The second-year scholar received the ball from Charlie Kelman around 25 yards from goal and sized up his options before drilling a shot into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
Eight minutes later Rush almost added a second after Benton and Kelman combined to set up the forward and his curling attempt beat the goalkeeper but bounced back off the crossbar. Harry Seaden made a smart stop on the half-hour, but in the 34th minute Benton doubled the advantage as he advanced unchallenged towards the Luton penalty area before cutting back to curl the ball out of the reach of the Town custodian.
Seaden made another good save seconds later, but it looked as though Southend might score every time they embarked upon an attack. Mitchell-Nelson met a Benton corner at the near post in the 38th minute, drawing another stop from the Hatters goalkeeper, but he wasn’t to be thwarted four minutes later when he rose imperiously to loop a header from a Benton free-kick into the net from ten yards out.
With a little over a minute remaining before half-time, Blues stretched the lead still further. Eastwood saw an initial effort charged down at close-quarters by a defender, but the rebound dropped to Kelman and he shifted the ball out of his feet before firing home from around twelve yards out.
In stoppage time Seaden stretched to his left to preserve his clean sheet into the interval, but there was to be no let up from the away team after the break. Blues stepped out with the same intent, the same determination to pressurise their opponents, that had been evident in the first half. They hustled and hurried Luton and gained their reward in the 52nd minute.
The fifth goal of the game came from a familiar source but it was a result of teamwork from the team’s attacking unit. Benton won the ball in midfield and offloaded possession to Eastwood. He slipped a pass on the outside and Kelman centred for Rush, who deceived the goalkeeper with a cheeky back-heeled finish with the inside of his right foot.
There was another good save from Seaden on the hour as Southend retained their defensive solidity, and chances continued to rain upon the opposite goal. Benton saw a well-struck attempt from the ‘D’ tipped around the post and Kelman saw an effort repelled by the goalkeeper’s legs before Rush missed out on a hat-trick with an angled finish from the right-hand apex of the penalty area that flew across goal.
Two goals inside sixty seconds took Southend seven clear by the 65th minute. The first came courtesy of Eastwood, who controlled a difficult finish brilliantly. Egbri had reached the right-hand bye-line and chipped the ball back to the first-year scholar, who sent a first-time volley from behind his body into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
Blues made a change, with Sam Brogan replacing Stewart, but straight from the kick-off they scored again as they won possession and Egbri drove into Luton territory before slamming a shot into the top left-hand corner of the net from more than 25 yards out. That effort took the winger’s consecutive goalscoring run to three matches.
With slightly more than a quarter-of-an-hour remaining, Luton finally breached the Blues back-line. Rush committed a foul 25 yards out and the subsequent free-kick was delightfully curled over the defensive wall and into the very top right-hand corner of the net.
Seaden was then taken off to allow Callum Taylor to make his competitive youth team debut. The Northern Ireland U16s international claimed a couple of through-balls, whilst Eastwood and Kelman went close at the other end, but his morning was short-lived as a forward got beyond him and he was sent off for denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity.
Mitchell-Nelson took the responsibility of going in goal, but he was powerless to keep out the penalty, which was drilled into the bottom right-hand corner of the net to make it 7-2. In the 88th minute the Hatters added a third as an unstoppable strike was sent into the top right-hand corner from the edge of the penalty area and it looked as though the gloss had been taken off of Southend’s outstanding performance.
However, Blues had the final say. First Mitchell-Nelson flung himself to his right to make a fingertip save at point-black range to deny Luton a fourth goal and then, in stoppage time, Eastwood grabbed his sixth goal in his last four games as he picked up Benton’s pass and fired a superb left-footed shot into the top left-hand corner of the net to complete the scoring at 8-3.
Southend United U18s: Harry Seaden (Callum Taylor, 75), Reiss Chandler, Ide Osimeh, O’Shane Stewart (Sam Brogan, 65), Miles Mitchell-Nelson, Sam Knock, Terrell Egbri (Ben Dabbs, 67), Jon Benton, Charlie Kelman, Matt Rush, Freddy Eastwood Jnr. Substitutes not used: Ahmet Biler, Issa Mpangea.
Goals: Rush (20, 52), Benton (34), Mitchell-Nelson (42), Kelman (44), Eastwood (64, 90+2), Egbri (65).
Dismissed: Taylor (85, denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity).