Southend United U18s moved in to the area quarter-finals of the EFL Youth Alliance Cup with a comprehensive 4-1 victory over Milton Keynes Dons on Tuesday afternoon.
The two teams had shared six goals equally in a league fixture in Buckinghamshire earlier in the season, but on this occasion a brace by winger Bobby Unwin, together with second-half strikes by Freddy Eastwood and Kenny Coker, saw Blues bounce back after falling behind.
Southend started the encounter on the front foot and nearly took the lead on eight minutes when Ahmet Biler’s corner kick looked to be curling into the far corner. MK Dons defender Harry Riley was relieved when he headed the ball out for another corner.
Two minutes later Biler, who had been restored to the side after sitting out Saturday’s victory over Barnet, directed a left-footed shot just past the post and, on 14 minutes, Dons goalkeeper Tom Carter pulled off a tremendous double save to deny Freddy Eastwood.
Four minutes later a marauding Reiss Chandler run saw Oli Coker send his header straight into Carter’s gloves. However, after a spell of sustained Blues pressure, the visitors gained a foothold in the game on 21 minutes when Southend lost possession from their own free-kick deep in their own half. Dons danger man Tali Jellow had a good chance but his tame shot was easily held by Jamie Grossart.
It should have acted as a warning to Blues as the visitors grew in confidence but, on 28 minutes, John Freeman burst down the right flank for the Dons and his shot was only parried by Grossart into the path of Jellow, who had the easiest of tasks to tap home.
Despite the setback, Blues regained the ascendancy and, after Eastwood miscued a shot and Carter had saved a Jimmy Wallace effort following a corner, it was Bobby Unwin that brought Blues level on 32 minutes. Blues had been awarded a free-kick on the edge of the Dons penalty area and some quick thinking from Eastwood freed Unwin to net with a fierce drive.
Blues could have taken the lead on 35 minutes when Adetayo Adeooja fashioned a scoring opportunity, but his hurried shot was well over the bar. Two minutes later a goal-bound Eastwood strike cannoned of a Dons’ defender for a corner and the last action of the half saw Oli Coker’s left-footed shot clear the bar after a superb run and cross by Unwin.
Southend had been rocked by an early second half goal at the weekend, but on this occasion they were the beneficiaries and the second period was just 25 seconds old when Eastwood gave the hosts the lead after bursting into the area and drilling a fierce left-footed shot past a stranded Carter in the Dons goal.
Soon afterwards Oli Coker had another chance but at full-stretch Carter managed to tip the ball around the post for a corner. Blues pressure mounted on the Dons and the lead should have been extended when Chandler embarked on another fine run and fizzed a cross into the danger area, but Unwin skied the ball over the crossbar from close range.
There was a fairly lengthy stoppage in play while Dons centre-back Jamal Sule received treatment for a leg injury but when play resumed Blues nearly scored after Wallace headed an Unwin set-piece across the face of the goal and agonisingly past the post. The visitors’ resistance was finally broken on 73 minutes when the ever-dangerous Unwin created space for himself and coolly slotted home with a right-footed shot.
Two minutes later Adeooja had a opportunity after being played in by Coker but his shot was just wide of the target. Then Unwin was denied a hat-trick when his goal-bound shot was desperately blocked by Sule and the referee waved away Blues’ shouts for handball.
Southend made a double change on 78 minutes when Cameron Brown and Adetayo Adeooja made way for Damaray Anyadike and Kenny Coker. On 80 minutes skipper Sam Brogan drilled a shot just over the Dons bar, and there were signs the away side were visibly wilting under constant Southend pressure. On 81 minutes Freddy Eastwood’s shot hit Sule and fell kindly to Kenny Coker to register his first goal for the U18s.
The comfortable lead allowed Blues the time on 84 minutes to give U18 debuts to Callum Burkey and Luke Reeve, who replaced Eastwood and Tom Davis respectively. Burkey was straight into the action and a great through-ball released Kenny Coker, but his shot lack the power to beat Carter.
On 88 minutes Blues survived a late scare when Ryan Holmes cross-come-shot nearly found the net but a superb stretch by Grossart averted the danger. Blues had to play the last few minutes with ten men, having made all their outfield substitutions with Oli Coker was unable to continue following a hefty knock to his right ankle.
However, they were still the more likely to score and the last action of the game saw Kenny Coker play in Anyadike, only for his shot to be well-saved by the overworked Carter in the Dons goal. A comfortable win for Blues as they cruised into the third round of the competition ahead of a return to league action away to AFC Wimbledon on Saturday.
Southend United U18s: Jamie Grossart, Reiss Chandler, Ahmet Biler, Sam Brogan, Tommy Davis (Luke Reeve, 84), Jimmy Wallace, Freddy Eastwood (Callum Burkey, 84), Cameron Brown (Damaray Anyadike, 78), Adetayo Adeooja (Kenny Coker, 78), Oli Coker, Bobby Unwin. Substitute not used: Callum Taylor.
Goals: Unwin (32, 73),Eastwood (46), K Coker (81).