Southend United U18s booked a place in the Third Round of the EFL Youth Alliance Cup with a thrilling 6-4 victory away to Newport County on Wednesday, with midfielder Jon Benton bagging a hat-trick in the process...
Benton’s treble – the first of his Blues youth team career – helped Southend record their first victory in the competition for three seasons as Matt Rush added a brace, taking his season’s tally to six, and O’Shane Stewart scored his first goal of the campaign in an entertaining encounter.
However, despite the free-scoring nature of the success, there is still much for Dave Huzzey’s side to work on as they failed to shrug off their south Wales opponents, who maintained an interest in the tie until Benton’s third goal five minutes from time.
Huzzey named an unchanged starting line-up for the third game in a row, and he could barely have hoped for a better start as his side took the lead in just the third minute. Charlie Kelman spotted the run of Rush down the inside-left channel, and the forward crossed perfectly for Benton to net with a rare header from close range.
The advantage was to last less than sixty seconds as Newport equalised almost straight from the kick-off. A direct run from a forward put pressure on Ide Osimeh and the ball was eventually squeezed between Harry Seaden and the left-hand upright from an acute angle.
Parity lasted only two minutes, though, as Blues bounced straight back. Benton played a part in providing the goal on this occasion as his floated free-kick to the back post was met by captain Sam Knock. The defender nodded back across goal and Rush slid in to convert from six yards out.
Three minutes later – and still inside the opening ten minutes of the fixture – it was 3-1. There didn’t appear to be any danger when Benton collected the ball in midfield, but the former Leigh Ramblers youngster steadied himself before curling a superb shot into the top right-hand corner of the net from distance.
Blues were hungry for goals and Kelman, who went into the match as the joint leading goalscorer for the team this season, steered a 20-yard effort inches wide of the left upright in the twelfth minute before Knock was denied twice in quick succession by the County goalkeeper as he met twin Benton set-piece deliveries.
Rush also fired over when he had team-mates in good positions to his right with the match barely a quarter-of-an-hour old, and Southend were made to pay for their profligacy in the 25th minute when Miles Mitchell-Nelson brought down a forward as he entered the penalty area and a Newport player sent Seaden the wrong way from the spot.
A home shot flew across the face of goal in the 34th minute, but Blues ended the first half strongly and could have added to their 3-2 advantage in the dying seconds as first Terrell Egbri found Kelman in a good position, only for a bobble to take the ball away from him, and then Egbri himself saw a shot charged down after hard work by Rush to win possession.
The second half started in similar manner to the first, and Southend stretched their lead within a minute of the restart when Rush netted his second goal of the afternoon. Benton was involved again, travelling through midfield before sliding the ball wide for Sam Brogan. The first-year scholar didn’t give up when his initial centre was cut out, and he eventually found Rush, who stabbed in via the left-hand post.
Predictably the two-goal cushion only lasted for a short period, and Newport halved the deficit for a second time in the 54th minute. A forward did well to progress down the Blues right, and he completed a virtuoso move by curling majestically into the top right-hand corner of the net.
Blues responded to the setback well, with Kelman being superbly challenged in the penalty area as he was about to pull the trigger and Benton’s strike from the edge of the box clearing the crossbar by inches. Newport also fired over, but the visitors made it 5-3 just before the hour mark when Stewart regally arrowed a skimming 25-yard shot into the bottom left-hand corner of the net to open his account for 2018/19.
Southend threatened to run their opponents ragged during this stage of the match, and Egbri saw another effort charged down at the near post before Mitchell-Nelson glanced a header wide from the ensuing Osimeh corner.
Freddy Eastwood, Issa Mpangea and Jimmy Wallace were all introduced to the action as Blues attempted to close the match out, and Rush saw an effort deflected off target from a Mpangea pass before Wallace’s close-range header was turned away by the Newport goalkeeper.
However, with ten minutes remaining, County increased the tension with a fourth goal of their own as a quick free-kick caught Southend out and the ball was blasted home past Seaden. At 5-4, Blues could have been worried, but instead they completed an exhilarating afternoon by netting a sixth goal, Benton recording a perfect hat-trick by curling home with his left foot from the edge of the penalty area.
Southend United U18s: Harry Seaden, Reiss Chandler, Ide Osimeh, O’Shane Stewart (Freddy Eastwood, 63), Miles Mitchell-Nelson, Sam Knock (Jimmy Wallace, 71), Sam Brogan, Jon Benton, Charlie Kelman (Issa Mpangea, 71), Matt Rush, Terrell Egbri (Bobby Unwin, 87). Substitute not used: Callum Taylor.
Goals: Benton (3, 9, 85), Rush (6, 46), Stewart (58).