Southend United U18s coach Danny Heath was impressed with the contribution of the club’s schoolboy talent after seven U16s featured in Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Leyton Orient.
Two of the schoolboys – Kenny Coker and Jaden Crowhurst – scored during the opening period, whilst Crowhurst also played a part in setting up first-year scholar Tommy Lambourne for the third goal after the interval. Defender Harrison Clayden and midfielder Kwabena Baffour-Akoto Yeboah also impressed on their first starts for the youth team.
Heath was delighted to see the quartet play such an integral role in the success and also complimented the role of the scholars that were involved. He insisted, because of the structure of the Academy, that there were no difficulties posed by including so many U16s in the squad.
“I’m very pleased for the boys,” he said. “We have four U16s starting and another three came on, so we’ve had seven schoolboys feature in the game, which is a massive positive. Throughout the week, and especially in the team meeting, we spoke to the first-year scholars and the second-years that were involved about the importance of them being leaders on the pitch and their communication to organise the U16s.”
“Within the Academy there is a philosophy and the playing formations and styles are all linked across the board from U9s all the way through the system, so for the players and the coaches, it’s not too much of a problem. It was just a case of us having a team meeting this morning and getting it across to the schoolboys about how we are going to play the formation to hopefully allow us to win the game,” Heath added.
Forward Lambourne delivered the first shot towards goal in the fifth minute when he volleyed wide from the edge of the penalty area but, during an even start to the contest, Orient responded and Callum Taylor was called upon to make a fingertip save to turn the ball over the crossbar.
Southend took the lead in the 12th minute. The industrious Coker had already showcased his work-rate by dispossessing a defender, only for the ball to run out of play, a little earlier and he chased down a hopeful through-ball, holding off an opponent before steering his finish beneath the advancing O’s custodian to register his third goal of the campaign.
“Kenny was a real handful in terms of closing things down and giving them no space and time to play,” Heath reported. “In possession, his link-up play and movement – when to run in behind or when to come and show feet – was excellent and it was a calm finish under the goalie one-v-one. He earnt that by chasing a lost cause, putting their defender under pressure and he’s then won it off him and got his rewards.”
Blues almost extended their advantage immediately as Ahmet Biler’s left-wing centre was delivered just out of the reach of the stretching Lambourne, and another Biler cross was side-footed wide at the back post by Ergis Shala in the 26th minute.
Despite the visitors swinging a free-kick wide from 25 yards out, Crowhurst was pulling the strings in midfield and imparting an influence on the game that belied his tender years. That was exemplified when he added Southend’s second goal in the 28th minute, lashing home from the edge of the penalty area via the underside of the crossbar after Bobby Unwin’s fierce strike was blocked into his path.
“We spoke to Jaden and Kwabena about playing as two central midfielders,” revealed Heath. “One of them can be more advanced and the other one’s got to sit, and for Jaden’s goal he has gone more advanced in that particular passage of play and Kwabena stayed underneath the ball to protect the two centre-halves. Jaden has got his rewards with a great strike from the edge of the box, and as soon as it left his foot it looked like it was going in.”
Taylor made another fine save, diving to his left to turn a shot around the right-hand post, to maintain the two-goal cushion, but Blues were generally playing with more confidence and Coker was inches away from getting a toe to Lambourne’s centre before the O’s goalkeeper made a parried stop from a Crowhurst free-kick.
Coker, who had played a part in the second goal by getting to the goal-line to cut the ball back to Unwin, went close himself in the 38th minute when he used his strength to get the better of a defender before firing into the side-netting, and Unwin then dragged a shot across the face of goal from Lambourne’s pass as the first half drew to a close.
Southend possessed less of an attacking threat in the second period, but they remained organised and restricted their opponents to few opportunities. Taylor made a smart save from a well-struck attempt on the hour, and a shot took a deflection to go wide four minutes later, but centre-halves Shala and Jimmy Wallace stood firm, aided by Clayden and Biler either side.
That defensive work reaped dividends in the 69th minute when Blues edged even further ahead. Wallace sent the ball down the right-hand side, where Crowhurst latched onto possession. The midfielder chipped a cross to the near post, where Lambourne powered a header into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
Brian Garzon replaced Yeboah with 18 minutes remaining, and he almost scored with one of his first touches when he nodded another Crowhurst cross over from close-range. Southend were then punished as Orient pulled a goal back as a right-wing cross was not defended well and the ball was forced over line.
Taylor calmed any potential nerves when he bravely came through a crowded penalty area to punch clear shortly afterwards, but the teenage Shrimpers also showed they were capable of adding to their three-goal haul as Coker forced a sprawling save from the goalkeeper and Unwin’s long-range effort was pushed out in the 85th minute.
Garzon was also denied when he tried to turn in the follow-up, but Blues could be content with their morning’s work ahead of Saturday’s Youth Alliance Cup tie at home to AFC Wimbledon (10:30am kick-off): “We spoke in the week about our back five – the back four and the goalkeeper – giving us a solid foundation to build upon further up the pitch, which I think they did really well today,” said Heath.
“That allowed the other six players to go and win the game for us, so those are massive positives. All the schoolboys were magnificent, so I’m really pleased. They were massive positives, and the only real disappointment is that we didn’t keep a clean sheet, but overall the whole eleven were superb.”
Southend United U18s: Callum Taylor, Harrison Clayden, Ahmet Biler, Jaden Crowhurst, Jimmy Wallace, Ergis Shala, Demaray Anyadike (Louie Arrowsmith, 89), Kwabena Baffour-Akoto Yeboah (Brian Garzon, 72), Kenny Coker (Adetayo Adedoja, 89), Tommy Lambourne, Bobby Unwin. Substitute not used: Jamie Grossart.
Goals: Coker (12), Crowhurst (28), Lambourne (69).
Cautioned: Shala (80, foul tackle).