Southend United U23s battled back from a 3-1 half-time deficit to earn a 3-3 draw with Luton Town in a behind closed doors Central League South Division encounter at The Brache on Tuesday afternoon.
The match was significant for two of the club’s first-team squad, Ted Smith and Luke Hyam, who made their returns following injury. Goalkeeper Smith had played just one match in the past 13 months, leading to shoulder surgery, whilst midfielder Luke Hyam has been on the sidelines since August with an ankle complaint.
Luton, who featured former Blues schemer Alan McCormack in their side, made the brighter start with Connor Tomlinson firing over inside the opening five minutes and Arthur Read seeing an effort deflected wide shortly afterwards.
However, Hatters goalkeeper Marek Stech was called into action to palm away a 25-yard free-kick by Tom Clifford, and the left-back found the target to give the Shrimpers the lead on the half-hour mark. Again the Academy product showcased his set-piece prowess with a superb strike that nestled in the bottom right-hand corner.
The hosts equalised with four minutes of the first half remaining when a well-worked short corner routine saw Read cross for Lloyd Jones to convert from close range, and three minutes later Luton edged ahead for the first time as Kazenga Lua-Lua won possession on the edge of the penalty area and arrowed a shot into the bottom left-hand corner.
The Hatters stunned their visitors with a third goal before the break when Tomlinson flicked home a Toby Byron cross, but Kevin Maher’s squad bounced back in the second half and almost pulled a goal back in the 55th minute when Stech made an outstanding save to deny Amadou Ba before Isaac Hutchinson’s follow-up was cleared off the goal-line.
Hyam was withdrawn after an hour, as anticipated, and Blues gave themselves a lifeline six minutes later when Hutchinson made it 3-2. The former Brighton & Hove Albion youngster, who has featured in both the club’s Checkatrade Trophy fixtures this season, fired into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
Sixty seconds later Blues were level through Norman Wabo. The substitute striker, who has recently returned from a loan spell with Maidstone United in the National League, mirrored his team-mate’s finish to equalise and set up an exciting final 23 minutes.
The closest either side would come to a winner was McCormack’s header from a Jack James cross, which rebounded off the crossbar, as the teams settled for a share of the spoils. Blues U23s are next in action on Tuesday evening when they travel to Isthmian League Premier Division club Harlow Town in the third round of the BBC Essex Senior Cup.
Southend United U23s: Ted Smith, Rob Howard, Tom Clifford, Luke Hyam, Taylor Curran, Harry Kyprianou, Eren Kinali, Renei Batlokwa, Amadou Ba, Harry Phillips, Isaac Hutchinson.
Goals: Clifford (30), Hutchinson (66), Wabo (67).