Southend United U23s recorded their first EFL Central League Cup win of the campaign by defeating Leyton Orient 2-0 at Boots & Laces on Tuesday afternoon.
Craig Fagan’s squad were augmented by the inclusion of first-team players Harry Lennon, Sam Mantom and Jason Demetriou, with the latter two stepping up their returns from injury by completing 68 and 90 minutes respectively.
Blues, who had lost their opening group fixture away to Cambridge United, started this tie in the ascendancy and scored with their first real attack of the match. Just four minutes had passed when Emile Acquah powered through the centre of the Leyton Orient defence and drilled a shot past Arthur Janata in the visitors’ goal.
The O’s had a good chance to equalise on seven minutes when James Alabi brushed past Lennon but his right-footed shot went wide and did not test Callum Taylor in the Blues goal. Orient had another chance on 17 minutes but again Alabi was off target as his header cleared the crossbar.
The game proceeded to get bogged down in a tight midfield battle with few chances of note, which was exacerbated on 27 minutes when the game was stopped whilst winger Terrell Egbri needed treatment following a heavy challenge.
On the half-hour mark the O’s almost found a route back into the contest but Jeremie Sivi controlled the ball expertly after a cross-field pass and was about to shoot on goal when Ide Osimeh made a superb block to snuff out the opportunity.
On 42 minutes Egbri’s blistering pace again troubled the visitors and he was upended on the edge of the O’s penalty area by Jayden Sweeney, the left-back receiving a yellow card for the challenge. That foul increased in significance shortly afterwards as Southend stretched their advantage.
Henry Burnett, again trialling for the young Shrimpers, lofted the free-kick into the danger area where both Acquah and Lennon appeared to have their shirts pulled and the referee pointed to the penalty spot. Matt Rush sent Janata the wrong way as he placed his shot neatly into the left-hand portion of the goal.
Two minutes later Rush could have had a third for Blues but his powerful shot was very well blocked by Marvin Ekpiteta and the visitors scrambled the ball away at the expense of a corner. Southend went in at half-time two goals to the good.
With no changes for either side at half-time it was the visitors that had the first chance of the second period on 49 minutes when a left-footed shot from Hector Kyprianou was well fielded by Callum Taylor.
Six minutes later, after another impressive run, Egbri’s lofted cross had Janata in trouble but Eren Kinali could not direct his header into the net, and Lennon followed that up with a header that was only partially cleared but fell to Rush. However, the in-form marksman’s shot went wide of the post.
On 63 minutes Acquah joined Sweeney in the referee’s notebook for one foul too many and, after a series of substitutions slowed the momentum of play, the next chance came on 71 minutes. Again it fell to Rush as the 18-year-old met Rob Howard’s superb cross with an overhead kick but Janata managed to save at full stretch.
Blues made some more changes, giving U23 debuts to striker Tommy Lambourne and midfielder Cameron Brown, both of whom are first-year scholars. As the rain started to get a little heavier, the last chance of the match fell to Rush but yet another great block, this time by Shadrach Ogie, kept the final score at 2-0.
Craig Fagan’s squad next play in the competition away to Milton Keynes Dons on 17th December, although seven days before that they travel to Peterborough United for a league assignment.
Southend United U23s: Callum Taylor, Rob Howard, Ide Osimeh, Sam Mantom (O’Shane Stewart, 68), Harry Lennon (Miles Mitchell-Nelson, 62), Jason Demetriou, Terrell Egbri, Henry Burnett (Cameron Brown, 83), Emile Acquah (Tommy Lambourne, 77), Matt Rush, Eren Kinali. Unused substitute: Jamie Grossart
Goals: Acquah (4), Rush (42 pen).
Cautioned: Acquah (63, persistently infringing the Laws of the Game).