Charlie Kelman’s four goals helped Southend United U18s to begin 2019 with a bang and a 6-1 victory over Gillingham at Beechings Cross...
Matt Rush and Freddy Eastwood were also on target for the teenage Shrimpers as they booked their place in the EFL Merit League One once the South East and South West Conferences merge at the beginning of February with a superb away victory. Incredibly it was the third time in 2018/19 that Blues had won an away match by a five-goal margin.
Dave Huzzey’s squad had won their final match of 2018 against Barnet at Boots & Laces by seven goals to one, and they kicked-off the new calendar year in similarly free-scoring fashion. Blues have now hit the target 66 times in 19 league matches alone, taking the total tally of goals in their league games alone past the century mark.
There were two changes to the starting eleven, with both coming in defence. Goalkeeper Harry Seaden has joined Bostik League North Division club Great Wakering Rovers on a work experience loan deal, so Northern Ireland youth international custodian Callum Taylor was brought back into the side. At right-back Ben Dabbs replaced Reiss Chandler.
Gillingham made a good start to the game, and a right-wing cross was headed over in the second minute before Miles Mitchell-Nelson deflected a strong shot off-target after a sweeping move from right to left. In-between there was a sign of Southend’s proficiency as Kelman scrapped for the ball and released Rush. His fierce effort was struck so well that the Gills goalkeeper couldn’t hold on, but he spun round to gather.
It would take only six minutes for Blues to register their first goal of the New Year. Midfielder O’Shane Stewart was involved, working hard to win the ball and seeking out Eastwood. The first-year scholar drifted inside before smashing goalwards from the edge of the ‘D’ and, when his strike was parried out, Rush was on hand to convert his 17th goal of the campaign.
Taylor had to be alert to turn an effort around the base of the left-hand upright in the tenth minute, and the gloveman was involved in Southend’s second goal after a quarter-of-an-hour. Blues were awarded a free-kick for offside and Taylor sent the ball long for Rush to challenge. He knocked the ball into the path of Kelman, who spotted the goalkeeper off his line and instinctively lobbed the ball into the back of the net.
Sixty seconds later Kelmanwas celebrating again. Again the United States youth international’s quick-thinking came to the fore as he seized possession after Gillingham tried to play the ball out of their penalty area. Kelman again caught the opposing goalkeeper out of position and steered the ball into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
There was a minor set-back for the visitors when Gillingham pulled a goal back in the 18th minute. The ball was worked down the left-hand side and a shot was driven against the right-hand post before an attacker reacted quickest the bundle the ball over the goal-line to reduce the arrears to two goals.
After that frantic period there was a five-minute hiatus as a home player received treatment in the Blues penalty area, but Southend wasted no time in reacting positively and Kelman completed a 15-minute hat-trick on the half-hour mark. The forward made this goal himself, robbing an opponent of possession around 30 yards from goal and advancing to caress his finish into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
Kelman became the third Blues youth team player to score a hat-trick this season, following Jon Benton against Newport County and Freddy Eastwood in the previous game against Barnet, and drew himself level with Rush as the leading scorer during the season.
Confidence was coursing through the veins of the away side at this point, and skipper Sam Knock worked the goalkeeper after meeting an Eastwood corner on 34 minutes. A couple of moments later pressure from Terrell Egbri forced a mistake from the shotstopper, who had to back-pedal swiftly to collect Rush’s attempted chip from 35 yards out.
An attempt was curled narrowly wide by the homesters in the 41st minute, but play swiftly switched to the opposite end where Rush should have added to his personal tally. Stewart released Eastwood on the left flank and his centre was nonchalantly flicked goalwards by Rush at the near post. The effort was scrambled out and Blues appeals for a penalty as the goalkeeper clambered over Rush were waved away.
In the fifth minute of stoppage time Gillingham’s task was made even harder when they were reduced to ten men. The left-back, who had already been shown a yellow card, was cautioned for a second time when he handled an Egbri cross and sent to the changing rooms. The first half ended seconds later when Mitchell-Nelson glanced over from Stewart’s set-piece.
Now with a numerical advantage, as well as a three-goal cushion, Southend relaxed after the break and continued to carve out opportunities as a consequence. A wonderful move also involving Ide Osimeh in the 48th minute culminated in Rush crossing for Kelman, who was denied by a superb save, before Eastwood dragged a 22-yard strike narrowly wide.
Eastwood then brought down an Egbri cross for Kelman, who saw his thunderous shot deflected out for a corner. As the hour mark approached Egbri’s searing strike cleared the crossbar by inches before the winger fired wide from a Ben Dabbs pass in the 61st minute.
The lead was extended to four goals in the 63rd minute through Eastwood, who contributed his 12th goal in 14 starts this term. Rush initiated the move by sliding the ball outside to Egbri on the right-hand side and he cut the ball back from the goal-line for the first-year attacker to fire clinically into the bottom left-hand corner.
Blues made four changes in quick succession, which included introducing schoolboy Cameron Brown for his youth team debut. The schoolboy has already been with the club for a decade, having made his first appearances as a 6-year-old, and did not look out of place in a central midfield role.
Kelman curled wide in the 75th minute after good work by subs Ahmet Biler and Jon Benton, and Benton’s intelligent free-kick just a couple of minutes later found the forward again. His vicious strike was brilliantly beaten to safety by the Gillingham goalkeeper, who would be beaten for the final time three minutes from the end.
Brown was involved, bringing the ball through midfield before finding Kelman. He picked out Issa Mpenga on the right-hand side and he returned the favour with a return pass that was arrowed into the bottom left-hand corner from ten yards out.
There was still time for Gillingham to have a second player sent off, this time for a dangerous tackle on Biler just inside Blues territory, but there was no further goalmouth action as Southend moved up to second in the table ahead of the final league game of the season against Northampton Town on 19th January. Southend host Cambridge United at Boots & Laces in the Youth Alliance Cup Southern Semi-Final this Saturday.
Southend United U18s: Callum Taylor, Ben Dabbs (Ahmet Biler, 63), Ide Osimeh, Sam Brogan, Sam Knock, Miles Mitchell-Nelson, Terrell Egbri, O’Shane Stewart (Jon Benton, 68), Charlie Kelman, Matt Rush (Issa Mpenga, 68), Freddy Eastwood (Cameron Brown, 68). Substitute not used: Jamie Grossart.
Goals: Rush (6), Kelman (15, 16, 30, 87), Eastwood (63).
Cautioned: Osimeh (39, foul tackle), Egbri (57, foul tackle).