Southend United U18s were defeated 2-1 by Cambridge United at Boots & Laces on Saturday as the squad’s winless start to the 2019/20 season.
Blues were inconvenienced by the concession of a third-minute penalty, but they fought back well and Issa Mpenga levelled early in the second period. However, Cambridge hit straight back and Danny Heath’s side were unable to force another leveller.
Heath was forced to make two changes to the starting line-up as skipper Sam Brogan and attacker Freddy Eastwood had both featured for the U23s in their Premier League Cup triumph over Fleetwood Town less than 24 hours previously. Oli Coker and Tommy Lambourne were restored to the team in their place.
Left-back Ahmet Biler hit the crossbar inside the opening sixty seconds as his left-wing cross drifted over the goalkeeper and against the woodwork, but the hosts were soon behind as a forward was brought down as they entered the left-hand side of the penalty area and Jamie Grossart was sent the wrong way from the penalty spot.
Blues were briefly under pressure and Grossart was cautioned in the seventh minute as he committed a foul when racing off his line to get to an under-hit back-pass, and the visitors struck the frame of the goal seconds later as the free-kick was nodded against the post. The ball was then fizzed back into the six-yard box and Grossart made a parried stop.
When Tommy Davis failed to get enough on his clearance, a Cambridge forward failed to punish him as he fired off-target, but from that point Southend started to assert themselves and, after Cameron Brown had smashed over from distance, he set up Mpenga, who flashed an effort across the face of goal.
The Cambridge goalkeeper was called upon for the first time in the 20th minute when he managed to keep out a Davis attempt from Coker’s corner at point-blank range, and Unwin warmed the gloves of the custodian a quarter-of-an-hour later with a stinging drive. However, Blues still found themselves behind at the break after Lambourne glanced a Davis cross wide of the far post.
In sweltering conditions, Blues could have equalised within four minutes of the restart when Biler sent Bobby Unwin clear and he centred for Brown. The midfielder had the whole goal to aim at, but he found himself thwarted by the goalkeeper’s legs.
Undeterred, Alex Bragg sent a corner into the penalty area that was curled narrowly over by Mpenga, and Lambourne then burst through the heart of the Cambridge defence. He could’ve elected to shoot himself, but instead he attempted to square to Unwin and the ball was cleared by the U’s back-line.
Southend’s attacking intent did leave them open in defence, and Grossart was called upon to make a superb save as he turned an attempt from a corner against the crossbar. Two minutes later a 15-yard effort was directed across the face of goal.
Play switched immediately to the opposite end and Blues restored parity through Mpenga’s second goal of the season. Coker sent a slide-rule pass down the right-hand side and the second-year striker steered his shot underneath the goalkeeper from just inside the penalty area.
Unfortunately Cambridge restored their advantage almost immediately as an attacker got the better of Reiss Chandler down the Blues right and arrowed a finish past Grossart and into the bottom right-hand corner. Grossart then made a fine fingertip save to push an effort past the post on the hour mark to keep the scoreline manageable.
Another effort was fired over by the U’s before Heath introduced Damari Anyadike in place of Lambourne. Unwin and Brown combined to set up Biler for a shot from the edge of the penalty area that was superbly tipped away by the Cambridge custodian.
There were further opportunities as Unwin nodded a Coker cross over and Bragg curled a free-kick over from 30 yards out, whilst Mpenga collected a pass from Unwin and dragged his effort across the face of goal. However perhaps the closest Blues would come to collecting their second point of the season arrived five minutes from time when the goalkeeper tipped away Biler’s cross.
Southend United U18s: Jamie Grossart, Reiss Chandler (Adetayo Adeooja, 85), Ahmet Biler, Oli Coker, Tommy Davis, Jimmy Wallace, Cameron Brown, Alex Bragg, Issa Mpenga, Tommy Lambourne (Damari Anyadike, 73), Bobby Unwin. Substitutes not used: Ergis Shala, Callum Taylor.
Goal: Mpenga (56).
Cautioned: Biler (29, foul tackle).