Second-year midfielder Jon Benton scored two goals to take his season’s tally to eight as Southend United recorded a 6-2 victory over AFC Wimbledon at Boots & Laces.
Benton joined Matt Rush at the top of the youth team goalscoring charts in the process, whilst Freddy Eastwood Jnr also bagged a brace in the impressive win. Charlie Kelman had earlier scored the opener with winger Terrell Egbri netting for the second week in succession.
Blues have now scored 24 goals in their last six games – and 32 in total during 2018/19 – and Benton admitted that confidence is flowing through the side at the moment: “I thought we started slowly but, as the game went on, they just couldn’t deal with us,” he claimed.
“When we attack with the ball in numbers, our combination play and movement up front is unbelievable at times, and that’s when we get our goals. I think we scored three or four in the last 35 minutes and that just killed the game for us, so that was good.”
“As an attacking five, with O’Shane [Stewart] as the sixth member in midfield, it works well. When we get the ball up front and we keep it with one- and two-touch football, no-one can get near us. There’s always room for improvement, but at the minute we’re doing really, really well,” Benton added.
Youth team coach Dave Huzzey brought back experienced duo Sam Knock and Ide Osimeh in defence in place of schoolboys Jimmy Wallace and Alex Bragg, whilst Kelman also returned to the starting line-up at the expense of first-year forward Issa Mpangea.
Kelman could have opened the scoring inside the opening four minutes, but he saw a 20-yard drive deflected wide before sending a header from Benton’s resultant corner into the gloves of the Dons goalkeeper. After that it was the visitors who carved out the clearer opportunities as Knock was required to deflect an effort over and Harry Seaden made a fine near-post stop to keep out a fierce strike in the 13th minute.
The deadlock was broken by Kelman in the following minute. The young striker had not scored in his previous two outings, but he grabbed his sixth goal of the campaign when he latched onto a lofted through-ball from Benton before splitting open the defence and driving his shot into the net.
Skipper Knock made another important block as Wimbledon sought a swift response but, despite Kelman seeing another attempt from as Rush cut-back charged down, the away side would not have to wait long to level. The referee spotted a foul in the Blues box as Seaden and Osimeh attempted to win the ball, and Jack Rudoni sent the England youth international shotstopper the wrong way from the penalty spot.
Seaden stood tall to make a save in the 20th minute and, although Eastwood pulled a shot wide from another Rush pass, the Dons took the lead for the first time in the 26th minute. The ball was moved quickly down the right-hand side and eventually squared to Ayoub Assal, who sent a composed finish in via the left-hand post.
Benton, who shortly afterwards saw a free-kick in a useful position blocked, was unperturbed at falling behind: “We’ve started slowly before in the league and conceded early, but we always manage to pull ourselves back and get going again and get the match in our favour. We have no problems getting goals in this team,” he said.
That final statement was proven by Eastwood, who netted for the third consecutive match six minutes before half-time to restore parity. Blues moved the ball down the left flank with Osmieh involved before Kelman picked out his team-mate and Eastwood poked his shot into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
Benton revealed the goal was proof of the unselfish nature of Southend’s six-pronged attacking unit: “It’s just a matter of who scores with our six attacking players. It has been good for us and everyone gives each other a chance. There was a goal today – I think it was Freddy’s first – when Charlie had the option to shoot, but he slid it in for Freddy because we have that team chemistry and that’s good for us,” he declared.
Blues could have stolen the advantage going in at half-time. Eastwood tried to lob the goalkeeper from 25 yards out and narrowly cleared the crossbar, whilst Egbri was denied by a full-stretch save. In-between a chipped pass from Kelman released Rush, who saw a scuffed shot saved. Benton then sent a first-time volley against a defender before Rush failed to round the goalkeeper.
The second period began with Wimbledon dragging a shot wide, but Blues were soon on front foot again and Miles Mitchell-Nelson brought the ball out of defence for Kelman, He spotted Egbri’s run outside him, but the second-year’s strong shot was well-saved. Rush then found Eastwood on the left and his nonchalant chip was tipped wide in the 56th minute.
On the hour mark, Southend showcased all their teamwork in order to net a third goal. It started with Eastwood and Kelman pressing their opponents, forcing them to face their own goal and pass the ball backwards. Knock then led the hosts up the field, squeezing the space and enticing a mistake. Egbri whipped possession from a defender and slotted home to make it 3-2.
The Dons custodian remained overworked, saving from Rush and Kelman before Eastwood scored Southend’s fourth goal in the 73rd minute. Kelman provided the assist, getting down the left before squaring the ball to his team-mate, who steered his finish into the bottom left-hand corner.
Kelman then curled narrowly wide as he sought to add to his earlier goal and Blues continued to increase the intensity. Rush embarked on a superb solo run, slaloming beyond two defenders before forcing the goalkeeper into a smart near-post save with a shot from an acute angle. Eastwood was then denied a hat-trick as his lob defeated the goalkeeper but was nodded off the goal-line.
Benton fired over when team-mates were better-positioned, but he remained confident that he would score with seven minutes remaining: “The first shot I had went over and I thought that I had to do better next time. When I got my next chance I took it, and hopefully I can do that again in the future.”
The assist was provided by Kelman, his third of the morning, who slipped the ball into the path of Benton. The former Leigh Ramblers youngster held off the attentions of a defender to guide the ball in off the right-hand post even as he lost his balance.
Two minutes later, Benton had added his second and his team’s sixth goal. This time Rush laid the chance on a plate for the midfielder, who was able to slam his shot into the top left-hand corner of the net from around 15 yards out.
Benton was delighted to continue contributing to his side’s successes: “From centre-midfield eight goals is impressive. Last year I got more assists that I did goals, but this year I’m learning the game from having that experience as a first-year. I’ve done a lot of dribbling and shooting sessions and that’s definitely helped. I hope to keep it up,” he concluded.
Southend United U18s: Harry Seaden, Reiss Chandler (Sam Brogan, 86), Ide Osimeh (Armet Biller, 86), O’Shane Stewart (Ben Dabbs, 87), Miles Mitchell-Nelson, Sam Knock, Terrell Egbri, Jon Benton, Charlie Kelman (Issa Mpangea, 87), Matt Rush, Freddy Eastwood Jnr. Substitute not used: Callum Taylor.
Goals: Kelman (16), Eastwood (39, 73), Egbri (60), Benton (83, 85).