Southend United U18s registered their first point of the 2019/20 season following an entertaining 3-3 draw away to Milton Keynes Dons on Saturday.
Danny Heath’s side trailed 1-0 at the interval to an Ollie Leach goal, but a stunning spell of three goals inside five minutes - two by substitute Tommy Lambourne and another from Bobby Unwin - at the beginning of the second half turned the match on its head. However, MK Dons responded with a trialist and Tali Jallow netting in quick succession and the teams had to be satisfied with a point apiece.
Heath made four changes to the team that had been beaten at home by Peterborough United, with goalkeeper Jamie Grossart handed his debut in place of Callum Taylor. Reiss Chandler replaced the injured Ben Dabbs whilst Ahmet Biler was named at left-back. Alex Bragg moved into midfield instead of Oli Coker and Cameron Brown stepped in for Lambourne.
Blues had the disadvantage of playing both against the wind and up the slope in the opening period, but they made a bright start and Unwin’s left-wing centre squirmed underneath the body of the MK goalkeeper in just the second minute. The ball dribbled wide, but the visitors were soon on the attack again when Brown set Issa Mpenga free. He flashed a shot narrowly wide in the ninth minute.
Seconds later Grossart made his first youth team save as he dived to his right to keep out a deflected effort, and he immediately set Unwin away on the attack at the opposite end. The winger drew a smart near-post stop from the home goalkeeper.
Grossart showed no signs of nerves shortly afterwards when he anticipated a pass and smothered a through-ball at an attacker’s feet, and Southend as a team belied their position at the foot of the fledgling league table as they laid siege to the home goal after the quarter-hour mark.
Biler and Unwin combined on the left flank to set up Eastwood, who saw his strike deflected narrowly wide of the post. From the ensuing corner Jimmy Wallace rose to meet Bragg’s inswinging delivery at the near post, only to watch as a defender somehow managed to turn the ball out for another corner from the goal-line.
Another near-post delivery by the left-footed Bragg was met by Unwin, who powered a header towards goal. This time the MK goalkeeper was in position to parry the initial effort before pouncing on Mpenga’s close-range follow-up.
Southend continued to build momentum and, from the goalkeeper’s restart, Mpenga picked up the ball 25 yards out and forced the gloveman to make a superb fingertip save. Still the danger was not over for the homesters and, from Bragg’s flag-kick, Unwin nodded against the crossbar.
Grossart was briefly called into action again in the 20th minute when he saved an aerial effort from a left-sided free-kick, but Unwin was handed another opportunity to break the deadlock five minutes later after Eastwood had broken up an MK attack on the halfway line. Unwin sprung clear of the defence, but his right-footed strike was well saved by the goalkeeper.
The shotstopper was in fine form and, after Mpenga had again collected the ball from his goal-kick, he thwarted the front-man’s stinging drive with a good save before, in the 28th minute, he kept out a well-struck Eastwood effort from distance.
Blues had dominated the first half-an-hour of the match but, as the half drew towards a close, MK took the lead. Wallace had just made a crucial interception to cut out a through-ball on the edge of the penalty area when Leach put the hosts in front six minutes before the break. He picked his spot from 25 yards out and curled his shot into the bottom left-hand corner to leave Grossart with no chance.
Centre-back Tommy Davis was then called upon to nod out a right-wing cross as MK sought to double their advantage, but Blues responded and Unwin almost levelled before the interval when his searing strike cleared the crossbar by a matter of millimetres.
Despite having had the better of the opening period, Heath elected to make a change at half-time, introducing Lambourne in place of Mpenga. The strike brought added height to the team, but also intelligent movement, and he almost gave the teenage Shrimpers the perfect start to the second half when he fired over after Unwin had brought down Chamdler’s cross.
Eastwood also had an effort charged down at point-blank range early on, but Blues finally equalised in the 52nd minute through Lambourne’s first youth team goal. The forward was on hand inside the six-yard box to force the ball over the line after Eastwood’s initial attempt had been palmed into his path by the goalkeeper.
Three minutes later the first-year scholar was celebrating again as he gave Southend the lead. This time it was Unwin that worked hard to create the chance, waltzing to the left-hand goal-line before squaring the ball to an unmarked Lambourne, who tapped in to make it 2-1.
In the 57th minute Blues added a third goal as they turned defence into attack in an instance. Defenders Wallace and Davis had both thrown their bodies on the line at the expense of a corner and, when the set-piece broke down, Eastwood was on hand to win the ball inside his own penalty area, He swept the ball into Unwin’s path and he strode away from the chasing defenders to slot underneath the goalkeeper.
Southend continued to attack, with Bragg dragging a long-range effort wide on the hour, and that may have contributed to their undoing as MK halved their deficit two minutes later. A left-wing centre picked out a trialist attacker at the far post, and he had time to control the ball before arrowing it into the bottom right-hand corner.
Five minutes later MK Dons hauled themselves level with a superb strike from 25 yards out. Jallow was given the space to dispatch a curling effort into the top right-hand corner of the net and suddenly it appeared that the hosts were the team in the ascendancy.
Despite the setback, however, it was Southend who pushed on again in search for a fourth goal. Eastwood saw a ferocious strike blocked at the near post and, from the resultant Bragg corner, Lambourne scooped Wallace’s knock-down over. In the 76th minute, Unwin picked out Lambourne in the penalty area but he couldn’t get his shot away before a defender had raced across to charge the effort down.
Damari Anyadike was brought on in place of Brown and Blues pressed on again. An Eastwood cross was nodded wide by Unwin, who then saw a strike gathered by the goalkeeper after Lambourne had unselfishly squared the ball into his path.
As the match entered its final six minutes, the goalkeeper continued to thwart Southend as Eastwood’s thunderous attempt was turned over the crossbar.
Another thumping effort, this time from Unwin following Anyadike’s pass, was also saved before Anyadike’s own shot was blocked by the custodian’s legs.
There was an anxious moment for Blues when Grossart had to dive at the feet of an MK forward, and he would have to leave the field in stoppage time to receive treatment. Taylor stepped in, but there were no further opportunities as both sides gained their first point of the campaign.
Southend United U18s: Jamie Grossart (Callum Taylor, 90+1), Reiss Chandler, Ahmet Biler, Sam Brogan, Tommy Davis, Jimmy Wallace, Cameron Brown (Damari Anyadike, 77), Alex Bragg, Issa Mpenga (Tommy Lambourne, 46), Freddy Eastwood, Bobby Unwin. Substitutes not used: Ergis Shala, Oli Coker.
Goals: Lambourne (52, 55), Unwin (57).