Twice in recent weeks Blues have squandered leads late in the match, whilst Stevenage inflicted a late defeat on Dave Huzzey’s side earlier this month after Southend had battled back from 2-0 down. On this occasion Knock and his team-mates saw out the final quarter-of-an-hour after goals by Jon Benton, Charlie Kelman and Matt Rush had made the scoreline 3-1 shortly after half-time.
“It was important for us to get the victory,” the second-year scholar said. “It has been physical in the last 20 minutes of matches, but this match showed that we can do it and that we will do it for the rest of the season, hopefully. We’ve got a lot stronger in the later stages of matches and that’s something we’ve been focussing on in training.”
“When they got it back to 3-2 everyone reacted, but fortunately one of their players was shown a red card and that calmed us down a little bit. We got a bit more confident and that led us to the win. It settled us down; we kept it in their half and that helped us to succeed.”
“We didn’t play the best football, but we got the win and that’s what we came out for. Last week I thought we played well and deserved to win, but we didn’t; this week we didn’t play well but we got the win and I guess that shows we’re a good side in that, even when we’re not playing well, we can get the three points,” Knock added.
Huzzey named an unchanged starting eleven for the visit of the U’s, and Blues winger Terrell Egbri threatened first in the fourth minute when his 25-yard attempt was charged down. Cambridge had their first opportunity in the eighth minute when Lewis Simper’s sumptuous cross narrowly eluded Sam Goode.
Southend made the visitors pay shortly before the quarter-of-an-hour mark when Benton scored his first goal of the current campaign. Kelman was involved, driving in a dangerous shot through a crowded penalty area that U’s goalkeeper Jonah Gill could only parry. Benton was alert to the situation and stole the ball from a defender before thrashing home from the apex of the six-yard box.
Within seconds Sam Brogan saw an effort from the edge of the penalty area, with Cambridge frantically scrambling the ball to safety as Kelman and Rush looked interested in the rebound. However, Josh Jeche smashed a dipping effort narrowly over on 25 minutes and, a couple of moments later, full-back Tom Dickens stooped to nod a Simper delivery into Harry Seaden’s net from close-range to equalise.
Blues responded well, and Simper could have put through his own goal in the 33rd minute when he rose to meet an Ide Osmieh corner, only to send it inches past the angle of post and crossbar. Ten minutes later Benton spurned an opportunity to double his personal tally when Kelman’s unselfish pass led to the midfielder scuffing wide of the left-hand upright.
However, on the stroke of half-time Kelman grabbed his fourth goal of the season to restore the advantage for the teenage Shrimpers. Osimeh’s corner was delivered deep to the far post and the first-year forward planted a header beyond Gill from around seven yards out.
Cambridge came out on the attack for the second period, but Egbri did well defensively to steal the ball from forward Ben Worman on the edge of the penalty area and Seaden then clutched a Sam Bennett strike to his chest in the first five minutes after the restart.
Blues extended their lead in slightly controversial circumstances in the 52nd minute. Gloveman Gill raced off his goal-line in an attempt to collect a Benton through-ball, but Kelman sensed an opportunity to win possession and poked the ball through to Rush, who rounded the stricken shotstopper to fire into the net.
The visitors appealed that Kelman had kicked the ball out of Gill’s grasp but the referee disagreed and awarded the goal, with Simper cautioned, and that yellow card would have further repercussions in the 74th minute when his went in recklessly on Egbri in midfield and earned a second caution, resulting in Cambridge being reduced to ten men.
By that time the U’s had halved their deficit as Bennett converted past Seaden with 18 minutes remaining, and they used any perceived injustice to fuel their attempts to source an equaliser. Charlie Johnson climbed high to beat Seaden to a left-wing free-kick and then smashed over, but they couldn’t break Blues down.
The numerical advantage helped Southend, for whom schoolboy substitute Bobby Unwin thought he had restored the two-goal cushion. Unwin chipped in following a Benton set-piece, but he saw his intelligent finish ruled out for offside.
Benton and Knock fired over from distance before Blues were given an anxious final few minutes. Seaden made a flying stop to thwart Joe Dearman in the 89th minute, whilst Bennett was unfortunate when his cheeky near-post flick from a Jake Battersby corner cleared the crossbar by inches.
Knock acknowledged that the performance was far from perfect after Blues were assured of the three points when Dickens fizzed an effort inches wide in the fourth minute of stoppage time: “Hopefully we can get a clean sheet soon because I think we’ve deserved one. We just need to be bit better organised, but we’ll be targeting a clean sheet in the next match,” he said.
“The back four are now looking at not conceding rather than the goals the team scores. We’ve played for a while together, so as a defence we are used to each other. Reiss Chandler has come in and done well, and in one-v-one situations he’s good. This year we’ve got a good back four, and hopefully we can stay strong and keep going,” he remarked.
Southend United U18s: Harry Seaden, Reiss Chandler, Ide Osimeh, Sam Brogan (Issa Mpangea, 87), Miles Mitchell-Nelson, Sam Knock, O’Shane Stewart, Jon Benton, Charlie Kelman (Freddy Eastwood, 71), Terrell Egbri (Bobby Unwin, 75), Matt Rush. Substitutes not used: Callum Taylor, Jimmy Wallace, Issa Mpangea.
Goals: Benton (14) Kelman (45), Rush (52).
Cautioned: Stewart (90+4, delaying the restart of play).