Forward Matt Rush scored a 16-minute hat-trick for Southend United U23s on Wednesday afternoon, but he couldn’t prevent his side from being edged out by AFC Bournemouth in a seven-goal thriller.
Rush turned the match on its head by netting three times between the hour mark and the 76th minute, hauling Blues back from a two-goal half-time deficit to parity with less than a quarter-of-an-hour to play, but Gavin Kilkenny’s excellent strike 11 minutes from the end gave Bournemouth a 4-3 EFL Central League Cup Group One victory.
The 19-year-old forward was included, along with goalkeeper Harry Seaden, after featuring as a substitute for the first-team at Bradford City less than 24 hours previously. The pair played instead of Callum Taylor and Issa Mpenga, with defender Jamal Balogun and midfielder Michael Klass replacing Reiss Chandler and Tayo Adedoja from the 3-1 defeat at Oxford United.
Cooper was involved again on 17 minutes having been picked out by Rush’s pass, but an ambitious half-volley from distance failed to trouble Plain. The same couldn’t be said for Seaden in the 22nd minute when he failed to claim a cross but atoned immediately by turning Owen Bevan’s fierce strike into the side-netting.
Having started with good intensity, Southend had started to sit a little deeper, inviting the visitors to Boots & Laces onto them. Seaden scooped up the ball after a neat interchange between two Bournemouth attackers and, on 26 minutes, he pushed Jordan Zemura’s shot wide of the far post.
Seaden did well again to save following a shot through a crowded penalty area from the ensuing corner, but Blues then began to push up again and Klass lost his composure from Jon Benton’s pass, allowing Plain to claim at his feet.
Although a Bournemouth attacker wastefully nodded wide when unmarked at the near post on the half-hour, Klass had an even better opportunity to open the scoring just seconds later. His initial effort was repelled by Plain, who bounced up immediately to parry out a ferocious follow-up.
On 37 minutes it was Benton’s turn to be careless in front of goal as Rush slid the ball precisely into his path. The 19-year-old, who had scored three goals in his previous two U23s outings, failed to add to that tally as he lifted the ball over the crossbar from seven yards out.
Blues were made to pay for their profligacy in the final minute of the first half. Kilkenny drilled a corner in from the right-hand side and Zemura was on hand to divert the ball beyond Seaden from close-range.
Worse was to follow in the second minute of stoppage time as the Cherries doubled their lead. Klass was robbed of possession deep in the Bournemouth half and the visitors broke swiftly down the left flank with Christian Saydee eventually squaring for Jaidon Anthony to tap in from six yards out.
Blues had much to do as they kicked off the second half, and any attempt to build momentum early on was stalled by an injury and subsequent treatment being administered to a Bournemouth player. Coach Craig Fagan then made a change for Southend, introducing Chandler for Cooper.
Eren Kinali smashed over from 30 yards out on 58 minutes, but just a couple of moments later Rush hit the target for the first time to halve the deficit. The former Bromfords School pupil latched onto the ball after Klass had challenged Dinesh Gillela and he steered the ball beyond Plain.
It took only three minutes for Bournemouth to restore their two-goal advantage, despite Seaden brilliantly tipping Anthony’s free-kick onto the crossbar. Miles Mitchell-Nelson hooked the ball off the goal-line, but Saydee was on the spot to fire into the bottom left-hand corner of the net and make it 3-1.
Within a further three minutes, Rush had hauled Southend back into contention for a second time. Again Klass was involved, this time bursting into the penalty area and driving towards the goal-line before hanging up a cross to the far post for Rush to turn home from just a couple of yards out.
Kinali went close in the 71st minute when he drilled the ball between the legs of a defender and inches wide of the right-hand post, but three minutes later he was sent tumbling by the advancing Plain and Rush had the opportunity to score from the penalty spot. He made no mistake, slamming home despite having to wait for a Bournemouth player to receive treatment.
At that stage, it appeared Blues were the more likely team to grab the win, but a quick free-kick released Kilkenny and he tracked along the edge of the penalty area before smashing an unstoppable shot into the top right-hand corner of the net to put the visitors in front once again.
Blues tried hard to grab another leveller, with Benton stabbing into the side-netting from Kinali’s cross in the 83rd minute, but they couldn’t engineer any further opportunities and instead they slipped to a second successive defeat in the group stages of the competition.
Southend United U23s: Harry Seaden, Rob Howard, Ide Osimeh, O’Shane Stewart (Imaad Sankoh, 72), Miles Mitchell-Nelson, Jamal Balogun, Eren Kinali, Chay Cooper (Reiss Chandler, 54), Michael Klass, Matt Rush, Jon Benton. Substitutes not used: Callum Taylor, Freddy Eastwood, Issa Mpenga.
Goals: Rush (60, 66, 76 pen).