Second-half goals by Bobby Unwin and Freddy Eastwood helped Southend United U18s to return to winning ways with a 2-1 victory away to Leyton Orient on Saturday.
Unwin put Blues in front just before the hour mark and Eastwood doubled the advantage with ten minutes remaining and, despite an injury-time consolation for the hosts, youth team coach Danny Heath was able to hail a positive result for the squad.
“Full credit to the boys,” Heath declared. “They deserved every ounce of those three points. We had a game-plan and worked on stuff in the week where we felt we could play to our strengths and try to exploit some areas on the pitch, especially on the regain, and full credit because both of the goals have come from doing exactly that.”
Eastwood was named in the starting line-up in place for Damaray Anyadike in one of two changes from the team that were narrowly beaten by Gillingham in their previous outing. Jimmy Wallace was also reintroduced to the side, replacing Tommy Davis in the back-line.
There were few opportunities in the opening stages, although an Ahmet Biler cross from the left flank was almost sliced into his own net by an Orient defender in the seventh minute. Left-back Biler was then involved in a defensive capacity as he cleared a corner with a diving header to set away Unwin, although a heavy touch allowed the O’s goalkeeper to claim at the winger’s feet.
Biler’s inswinging corner in the 12th minute narrowly eluded Ergis Shala, with an Orient defender clearing the ball on the goal-line as Wallace attempted to force it into the net, and although Callum Taylor positioned himself well to parry out when a home forward got the better of the two centre-backs, it was Southend who appeared more likely to score as the game approached the quarter-hour mark.
Eastwood exchanged passes with Oli Coker to create a crossing chance in the 13th minute, with midfielder Coker continuing his run to the far post. Eastwood picked out the first-year scholar, who saw his volley brilliantly turned around the post by the goalkeeper.
A couple of minutes later Eastwood fashioned an opportunity for himself, superbly curling the ball around a defender to leave the home custodian unsighted, but the shot bounced back off the angle of post and crossbar. Nine minutes later it was Unwin who went close as he smashed narrowly over from Sam Brogan’s pass.
Good build-up by Blues continued to see them threaten the Orient goal, and in the 27th minute Coker found Eastwood in the penalty area. He shot on the turn and, although that was blocked, the ball cannoned back out to Unwin, who fired over from the edge of the penalty area.
Further interchange between Eastwood and Coker led to the former poking a shot through a crowded penalty area, drawing another save from the O’s goalkeeper on the half-hour mark, before Unwin wastefully shot over with options for a square pass available in the penalty area.
In the 34th minute, Taylor gathered a shot from 20 yards out with relative ease, and an Orient forward dragged a shot wide towards the end of the opening period, but Blues could go in at half-time content with their display. In particular, schoolboy Adetayo Adeooja had worked hard to constantly pull Orient defenders out of position and earn set-piece opportunities.
Blues began the second half on the front foot, with Unwin curling a free-kick over in the 52nd minute and Adeooja side-footing wide from an Unwin cross two minutes later. Within seconds the Shrimpers had gone even closer as Eastwood’s strike was deflected over from Biler’s pass.
Finally, in the 59th minute, Unwin put Blues ahead. The move started with Ergis Shala winning a dominant header at the back, and that allowed Adeooja to flick the ball around the corner and set Unwin away. On this occasion the wide man kept his composure to slot the Shrimpers in front.
Blues could have added to the lead four minutes later after Coker’s industry had engineered openings for Cameron Brown and Unwin. Both passed up the opportunity to shoot, and Coker eventually curled straight into the goalkeeper’s gloves.
Midway through the second period Coker stung the palms of the shotstopper with a fierce strike, but Blues were indebted to Taylor as Orient immediately burst clear and the Northern Ireland youth international brilliantly palmed a shot around the post. From the resultant corner, an O’s midfielder was found unmarked at the far post, but he inexplicably chipped over from just a couple of yards out.
Blues managed to ride out the temporary uneasiness, with Wallace also stepping in to break up a counter-attack, and Eastwood and Brown both tested the Orient custodian before Southend doubled their lead. Substitute Tommy Lambourne connected with Coker, and he unselfishly squared to Eastwood, who took a touch before smashing into the roof of the net.
“Part of the reason behind switching Bobby and Freddy was because of their personnel. We played Bobby on the side where he could make us physically stronger and we put Freddy on the other side because of his ball skills and where he is clever and capable of intricate play. Bobby scored the first goal by making a run into the space and Freddy scored from the opposite side, so I’m very pleased for those two,” said Heath.
Blues were able to introduce schoolboy Jaden Crowhurst in the final minute of normal time for his U18s debut, but the sheen was taken off the performance slightly in stoppage time when a substitute slammed an unstoppable shot into the left-hand corner of the net.
Southend United U18s: Callum Taylor, Reiss Chandler, Ahmet Biler, Sam Brogan, Jimmy Wallace, Ergis Shala, Freddy Eastwood (Damaray Anyadike, 85), Cameron Brown (Jaden Crowhurst, 89), Adetayo Adeooja (Tommy Lambourne, 75), Oli Coker, Bobby Unwin. Substitutes not used: Jamie Grossart, Tommy Davis.