Southend United U18s moved into the top half of the EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference table with a narrow 2-1 victory away to Cambridge United on Saturday.
Danny Heath’s side moved above Luton Town and level on points with their opponents and fourth-placed AFC Wimbledon in the table after Tommy Lambourne’s third goal of the season and a slightly fortuitous own goal just before half-time helped the visitors overturn an early deficit at the Clare College Sports Ground.
Blues made three changes to the side that had beaten Leyton Orient, also by a 2-1 scoreline, in their previous outing. Tommy Davis was preferred to Ergis Shala at centre-back, whilst Damaray Anyadike replaced Freddy Eastwood. The third swap saw first-year scholar Lambourne make his full return from injury at the expense of schoolboy Adetayo Adeooja.
Having dominated their last league outing against the O’s, Southend were much more sluggish at Cambridge, and they almost fell behind in the third minute after midfielder Cameron Brown had brought down a marauding full-back just outside the penalty area. The free-kick was curled against the base of the right-hand post and cannoned to safety.
A left-wing U’s corner then caused some concern in the Blues back-line and, although the initial effort was cleared, the follow-up attempt was directed narrowly wide. Southend did respond with a quick burst from Bobby Unwin that culminated in Oli Coker miskicking his shot and allowing Cambridge to clear easily.
Anyadike’s potency down the right would be a feature of the opening period, and he worked hard to create a chance for Lambourne in the seventh minute. Anyadike’s lay-off was brought under control impressively by the forward, who proceeded to curl narrowly wide of the left-hand upright.
However, for all Southend’s impressive play in an attacking vein down their right-hand side, Cambridge were equally threatening from the left flank. They could have scored after a quarter-of-an-hour when a centre was chipped over, and they did eventually take the lead when Brown was dispossessed in the 18th minute and a finish was arrowed into the bottom left-hand corner.
Crucially Blues took less than sixty seconds to respond. Goalkeeper Callum Taylor cut out a left-wing cross at his near post and set Unwin away down the opposite touchline. The first-year flyer got to the goal-line before cutting back to Lambourne, who had little difficulty in side-footing home from inside the six-yard box.
Whilst the goalmouth action then receded, Southend’s hard work increased in an exponential fashion. Heath’s charges hustled and hurried their opponents until, in the 40th minute, they were rewarded. Reiss Chandler’s through-ball was chased by Anyadike, and he exerted enough pressure on a defender to force a back-pass. The goalkeeper allowed it to slip past him and into his own goal before he could get back to clear.
Having worked so hard to get themselves in front, Blues were in no mood to let the lead slip, and Davis made a superb challenge in the penalty area to clear the danger. Another left-wing cross was then directed goalwards, with a deflection taking the ball out of play for a corner on the stroke of half-time.
Eastwood was introduced in place of Anyadike at the interval, and the early stages of the second period saw Southend seeking to add to their advantage. Unwin drilled the ball across the six-yard box in the 48th minute and, after Eastwood had retrieved possession, Coker saw an effort blocked at close quarters.
Less than a minute later playmaker Coker’s free-kick was curled marginally over the crossbar, whilst Lambourne fired into the goalkeeper’s gloves from the edge of the penalty area and Unwin misdirected a side-footed finish from Eastwood’s right-wing delivery in the 52nd minute.
However, having failed to give themselves a sizeable cushion, Blues were forced to defend strongly in the final 20 minutes of the match. A long throw was flicked into the path of a U’s attacker, who nodded over, and Taylor combined well with Jimmy Wallace in the 74th minute to deal with an awkward cross at the expense of a corner.
Unwin retained a threat on the counter-attack, and he blasted wide with a quarter-of-an-hour remaining before combining with Coker to thread the ball into the path of Lambourne, who was caught offside by a matter of millimetres.
With four minutes left Lambourne was withdrawn for Adeooja, whose energy and industry immediately occupied the Cambridge defence. Nevertheless, Davis did well to distract a U’s attacker, who headed off-target, before another header was directed over from a dangerous free-kick.
The hosts continued to pile on the pressure, earning a couple more set-pieces in stoppage time, but Blues saw out the danger to record their fifth win from their last six matches in all competitions. They now go into their next league game, away to Stevenage on Saturday, and The FA Youth Cup First Round tie against Cambridge, with increasing confidence.
Southend United U18s: Callum Taylor, Reiss Chandler, Ahmet Biler, Sam Brogan, Jimmy Wallace, Tommy Davis, Damaray Anyadike (Freddy Eastwood, 46), Cameron Brown, Tommy Lambourne (Adetayo Adeooja, 86), Oli Coker, Bobby Unwin. Substitutes not used: Jamie Grossart, Ergis Shala.
Goals: Lambourne (19), own goal (40).
Cautioned: Chandler (67, persistently infringing the Laws of the Game), Lambourne (77, foul tackle).