Matt Rush netted a hat-trick as Southend United U23s defeated Isthmian League South Central club Harlow Town 5-1 in a friendly on Wednesday evening.
With just two EFL Central League fixtures remaining this season, Blues arranged the friendly to top up the fitness and the match sharpness of a number of players who have been on the fringes of the first-team squad in recent weeks.
As well as Rush’s treble, Emile Acquah, and Isaac Hutchinson were also on target for the young Shrimpers, for whom the likes of Richard Taylor and Eren Kinali also featured. Harry Seaden, who made his senior debut in last Tuesday’s League One clash against Gillingham, was the goalkeeper.
Blues started this friendly match immediately on the front foot when first-year scholar Oli Coker fashioned a chance, but his left-footed shot was saved by the Harlow Town goalkeeper Arthur Janata at the expense of a corner. Hutchinson floated in the flag-kick and Acquah headed in at the far post with just 50 seconds on the clock.
Craig Fagan’s side wasted little time in adding to their advantage, and it was 2-0 in the seventh minute when Hutchinson scored from a seemingly impossible angle on the right side of the box, beating the keeper at his near post.
Five minutes later Rush was played through by Hutchinson but this time the Janata made a great save and Rush was denied again on 16 minutes after Coker created an opportunity for him. It was all Southend and on 24 minutes Hutchinson again released a forward, Acquah this time, but his left-footed effort was easily fielded by Janata.
Blues’ pressure finally paid off when they extended their lead shortly after the half-hour mark with Rush’s clever left-footed shot just eluding the Harlow goalkeeper and finding the net via the inside of the far post. Two minutes later it was nearly four when Rush turned provider but Acquah’s shot just went past the post and, on 39 minutes, Hutchinson had a shot tipped over the bar for a corner.
Harlow won a free-kick a minute later when skipper Rob Howard tugged back Alex Read when he was through on goal. Howard was spoken to by the referee before the free-kick was slammed into the Southend defensive wall and cleared.
The first chance of the second half fell to Acquah on 56 minutes but his header from a Hutchinson corner flew over the bar. Two minutes and Blues extended their lead still further when Hutchinson drove into the hosts’ penalty area and Janata was only able to parry his shot. Rush was on hand to clinically net the rebound.
On 64 minutes Hutchinson took a free-kick in a dangerous-looking position but his effort went well over the crossbar. Three minutes later Harlow reduced the deficit when experienced striker Alex Read beat Harry Seaden with a fierce right-footed shot.
Rush completed his hat-trick on 69 minutes - his second against the Hawks this season - again scoring from close range when Harlow failed to clear their lines and, although there were over 20 minutes remaining, that represented the end of the scoring.
Richard Taylor enjoyed an imperious game in defence, and Blues last real chance of the game fell to O’Shane Stewart, who dragged a shot wide of the post. Five minutes from the end Seaden made a fingertip save to deny Harlow a second goal, but it was a really good workout for the Blues youngsters and a dominant display throughout the match.
Southend United U23s: Harry Seaden, Rob Howard, ide Osimeh (Ahmet Biler 85), Isaac Hutchinson (Bobby Unwin 74), Zak Pianim (Jimmy Wallace 78), Richard Taylor, O’Shane Stewart, Oli Coker, Emile Acquah, Matt Rush (Freddy Eastwood 74), Eren Kinali (Sam Brogan 46). Unused substitutes: Jamie Grossart, Henry Burnett.