Freddy Eastwood and schoolboy Adetayo Adeooja contributed braces as Southend United U18s defeated Barnet, 4-1, at Boots & Laces on Saturday.
Blues made it back-to-back home wins with the victory, and goalscorer Eastwood was pleased to see the team register their second triumph of the campaign:
“I thought we played some good football,” he said. “Last week was a tough one to take at Northampton because we played a lot of good football and we were undone by a penalty. Our heads dropped there a little bit, but we bounced back today and we took our chances.”
The success was underpinned by a change in formation to 3-5-2, with Damari Anyadike and Bobby Unwin deployed as wing-backs and Ergis Shala named at the heart of the defence. Callum Taylor returned in goal in place of Jamie Grossart, whilst U16s forward Adeooja was partnered by Eastwood up front.
The second-year scholar took his new role in his stride: “Every chance we got today we more or less put away,” he exclaimed. “We looked like a threat going forwards and the 3-5-2 formation worked well for us. It helped us to break Barnet down.”
“It was tough because we didn’t get told until Thursday afternoon and we only worked on it on Friday morning, but whatever our coach decides, we have to play and we did a good job for him. It was good to get three points at home; that was what we needed and puts us in good stead for Tuesday in the Youth Alliance Cup.”
“I played more as a striker than I have in recent weeks. I enjoyed it, to be honest, because it’s a bit different to playing on the wing. As a striker you either look to spin or play feet, and I’m more of a player that likes to play to feet, so it’s a different test because when you’ve got a long ball in behind you’ve got to chase it down,” he added.
With Southend matching up their opponents in terms of formation, there was little to separate the teams in the opening quarter-of-an-hour. Blues pressed high, but the first attempt on goal did not arrive until 15 minutes when Jon Benton, starting his first match since January, curled a free-kick into the defensive wall.
The match then proceeded to open up, with Benton turning an Unwin cross into the gloves of Barnet goalkeeper and Aymen Azaze and Unwin then dragging an attempt wide from 30 yards out after collecting the ball from Jimmy Wallace’s well-timed challenge.
Unwin had been given the license to roam from his left wing-back position, and he narrowly overhit a cross aimed for Benton at the far post from the right touchline, but that mattered little when, on 33 minutes, Eastwood put Southend in front. Oli Coker’s volley from the edge of the penalty area bounced back off the right-hand post and Eastwood side-footed home the rebound from ten yards out.
“It’s good to get back on the scoresheet,” the scorer said. “My aim is to get 20-plus this season, and two today will stand me in good stead as I try to do that. As it left his foot, I thought it was going to go in the bottom corner, so I watched it onto the post and it came back and I finished it first-time. The ‘keeper thought it went wide, so it was good that I was on my toes to tap in.”
Barnet had their first opportunity on 39 minutes, but Juan Castillo acrobatically fired off-target from Finn Titchmarsh’s cross. Coker and Eastwood then combined at the other end to set up Benton, who saw two attempts charged down, and the half ended with Benton pulling a 25-yard strike wide and Azaze denying Wallace during stoppage time.
Blues would have been confident, having dominated the opening period, that they would carry that momentum into the second half, but that was undermined within 18 seconds of the restart when the visitors equalised. Wraynel Hercules centred the ball from the right flank and George Murphy tapped home from close range.
Parity lasted just three minutes as Adeooja, making just his second start for the U18s, contributed his first goal. Benton’s free-kick was delivered low to the near post and, although it was initially blocked, Shala forced a parried stop from Azaze and Adeooja was on hand to rifle the rebound into the net.
Barnet attempted to respond again, but Steven Bala slipped as he looked set to bear down on Taylor’s goal and Murphy was then prevented from getting a shot away from a Hercules pass. When Southend relieved the pressure, Unwin’s run was ended by a foul and Azaze was forced to claim Benton’s free-kick above his head.
Wallace also glanced a header wide from another Benton set-piece, but Blues sought to preserve their advantage by bringing on the more defensive-minded Reiss Chandler for Anyadike in the 71st minute. Barnet forced Southend briefly onto the back foot, but the shackles were broken when Chandler galloped onto Benton’s pass and a back-pedalling Azaze had to tip his cross onto the crossbar.
Eastwood also angled a shot wide during this passage of play, whilst Ahmet Biler replaced Unwin with eight minutes to play. Just a few seconds later it was 3-1 as Adeooja contributed his second goal of the game. There didn’t appear to be much prospect of a successful strike when the forward won the ball from a defender in the penalty area, but he twisted and turned to create space and then smashed gleefully into the net.
Three minutes later and Southend had banished any lingering hopes for their visitors. Eastwood had just smashed over from 25 yards out, but this time, when placed in a similar position, he picked his spot and a deflection wrong-footed Azaze, leaving the ball to nestle in the bottom right-hand corner.
“The first thing in my brain is that I see the goal,” explained Eastwood. “I was about 20 yards out, so I’m looking to shoot and, as the ball has come into my feet, I’ve seen that it’s time to go across him. As I hit it to go across, it took a deflection and went the other way, but as long as they go in it doesn’t matter.”
Youth team coach Danny Heath made a double substitution, awarding Kenny Coker his competitive youth team debut and allowing Adeooja to take the applause of the supporters. There were no further chances, and Heath will now be hoping his teenage charges take their form into the EFL Youth Alliance Cup tie against Milton Keynes Dons on Tuesday afternoon.
“I feel like the boys are starting to come together as a team. It’s been tough at the start of the season as we’ve been changing the team every week and changing the position of the players, but I think we’ve nailed down how we want to play and it looks a lot better in training and in games. We played good football last week, even though we lost, and that showed because we had a good win in this match,” concluded Eastwood.
Southend United U18s: Callum Taylor, Ergis Shala, Bobby Unwin (Ahmet Biler, 82), Sam Brogan, Tommy Davis, Jimmy Wallace, Damari Anyadike (Reiss Chandler, 71), Jon Benton, Adetayo Adeooja (Kenny Coker, 86), Oli Coker (Cameron Brown, 86), Freddy Eastwood. Substitute not used: Jamie Grossart.
Goals: Eastwood (33,), Adeooja (49, 83).
Cautioned: Wallace (60, foul tackle).