Southend United U18s signed off the year in style with an impressive 2-0 victory away to Luton Town in the EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference.
Blues are now within touching distance of leaders Cambridge United after halting a run of consecutive defeats thanks to second-half goals by Cameron Brown and Kenny Coker. Danny Heath’s side head into the festive break two points off the top with a game in hand.
“It was a very good performance and I’m very pleased with the win,” said Heath. “It was a nice way to end the year and the boys deserved it. It’s been a very different year for us due to Covid, what with last season being stopped early, so our target was to finish it off with a win.”
“Luton were the better team in the first half. They created some good chances and we should’ve come in behind, but in the second half we were much better. Work-rate and commitment are a given, but in the second half our technical play and passing was much better.”
“We made better decisions across the pitch and the two goals we scored were of a very good quality. After we went 2-0 up we could’ve added three or four more as well,” he added.
Blues had been beaten 3-1 at Cambridge in their previous fixture, and Heath made changes to the formation and line-up as a result. Harrison Clayden returned from injury on the right-hand side, with Bobby Unwin replacing Louie Arrowsmith on the left. Jaden Crowhurst started instead of Callum Burkey in midfield.
Having gone in behind in that game, Heath felt keeping in tight in the first half paid dividends this time around: “Because we were drawing at the break, we weren’t chasing the game to get back on level terms. We weren’t at the standard the boys can play, and when they spoke at half-time the boys said a few words to each other.”
“For the first 2-3 minutes of half-time we let the boys, as a group, get some things off their chest; that’s their own team-talk whilst as staff we discuss the 3-4 most important points. They said a few harsh words to each other, and that benefits the team. We want leaders to develop.”
“They gave themselves a talking to, and within a minute of the restart Kenny Coker and Cameron Brown had put in two big tackles and that set the tempo from there to get a foothold in the game. It allowed the boys to play their football. Our passing and movement improved, and we worked the ball into some goalscoring areas.”
Blues took the lead around the hour mark through midfielder Brown, who joined Tayo Adedoja and Oli Coker as leading goalscorer this season with five. Kenny Coker then netted for the second game in succession fifteen minutes later to seal the success.
“For the first goal Tommy Davis put a great ball in over the top because Luton play a high line,” Heath explained. “The weight on the pass was perfect and Cameron made a great run on the opposite side of the pitch. He advanced one-on-one with the goalkeeper and dinked it over him.”
“For the second goal Damaray Anyadike had a situation on the far right-hand side where he could have laid it off, but he worked his body really well, drove into the box and got a shot away. The ‘keeper made a save, but it fell to Kenny and, although it was a difficult finish, he found the back of the net under pressure.”
That was enough to earn a sixth win from eleven league matches this campaign, and a first away from home against one of the title contenders. Heath revealed that some of the squad’s second-year scholars played a key part in masterminding the victory.
“There’s a leadership group of Jimmy Wallace (captain), Cameron Brown (vice-captain), Tommy Davis and Oli Coker. They come to us as staff with ideas about how things can be improved,” he detailed.
“Speaking to them, the boys had set their own target to win this game after the previous two defeats. They were angry with themselves at Cambridge and they immediately turned their focus to Luton and finding a way to win the game.”
“It’s still about developing players at this level, but stepping into the first-team you can’t afford to lose 4 or 5 games on the trot. After the final whistle you could see how much it meant to them, and in the second half they performed to the levels we expect.”
“The challenge in the New Year is to be professional and to be ready to put a shift in. We don’t have another match now until 12th January, but the boys will be in Monday-Wednesday this week and then from the 28th-30th December. Hopefully we can build on the result and the performance we put in.”
And, aside from the action on the pitch, youth team coach Heath signed off for 2020 with some good news on the injury front, not just with the return of Clayden after two months on the sidelines, but with second-year Tendi Quamina also starting to take to the pitches at Boots & Laces after two years out through injury.
“Harrison has worked hard with Amy Rogers and Cat Malcolm to get back fit, so it was good for him to start the game. We’ve also got Tendi who has been back involved with the players outside doing some technical ball-work.”
“Tendi was involved with the work we do preparing the team on Friday, and his mental toughness, his attitude and his application over the past two years has been second to none. There’s no better feeling than seeing him involved with the boys.”
“He’s been involved with the squad throughout his scholarship, and it’s great that he’s been able to do some ball-work. He has set himself a target to play a game for the U18s before the end of the season,” Heath declared.
Southend United U18s: Jamie Grossart, Harrison Clayden (Habib Bolarinwa, 88), Bobby Unwin (Damaray Anyadike, 25), Luke Reeve, Tommy Davis, Jimmy Wallace (Callum Burkey, 75), Jaden Crowhurst, Cameron Brown, Kenny Coker, Oli Coker, Tayo Adedoja.