A change in formation during the second period proved integral to Southend United U18s continuing their impressive start to the 2020/21 season with a 2-0 win away to Cambridge United on Saturday.
Cameron Brown deftly flicked in Oli Coker’s 57th minute free-kick to put Blues in front before Adetayo Adedoja slotted home the second with a little under a quarter-of-an-hour to play, but the visitors to Clare College Sports Ground had struggled up to that point and were indebted to goalkeeper Jamie Grossart for his first-half penalty save.
"We changed the shape slightly in the second half and put two up top and that helped,” explained Academy coach Craig Fagan, who was taking charge of the team. “It allowed us to get more runners in behind and we were more of a threat. That caused Cambridge a problem and they started to panic a bit more and give us more opportunities in the final third.”
Southend were unchanged from the team that defeated Leyton Orient 4-0 in the EFL Youth Alliance Cup in midweek, although there was an early sign that they may not enjoy the same level of dominance when Damaray Anyadike was forced to hook the ball off his own goal-line in just the third minute.
Winger Anyadike was then involved in setting the teenage Shrimpers on a swift counter-attack, picking out the run of Brown on the opposite side to his own right-wing advance. Brown then moved the ball on to Adedoja, who scuffed his shot and allowed the Cambridge goalkeeper to gather possession.
Much of Southend’s early joy was derived from set-pieces after Brown forced the goalkeeper to tip his well-struck attempt around the left-hand upright in the 16th minute. From Coker’s corner just seconds later, defender Tommy Davis’ header squirmed through the Cambridge custodian’s legs and against the right-hand post, with the goalkeeper recovering to turn the ball away.
Another deep Coker flag-kick then picked out Jimmy Wallace at the back post, but the skipper planted his header wide. Thereafter Blues struggled to make an impression on the game as their passing became uncharacteristically hurried.
Instead it was the hosts that were presented with a golden opportunity to break the deadlock when Anyadike was adjudged to have tripped an attacker as he entered the penalty area. The Southend defence had not been breached for approaching 300 minutes at that stage, and Grossart maintained that record by guessing correctly and pushing the spot-kick around the right-hand post.
Cambridge continued to build possession from the back but Grossart – with Davis, Wallace, Ergis Shala and Louie Arrowsmith in front of him – continued to repel the danger with little tangible threat up to the half-time interval.
The second period began in much the same vein, although left-back Arrowsmith was called upon to divert a close-range shot around the post and Wallace then cleared the ensuing corner to safety. In the 54th minute, there was a let-off for Blues when an attacker glanced a left-wing cross wide of the far post.
Three minutes later, and with Anyadike pushed up to support Adedoja in attack, Southend edged in front. "It helped the team,” Fagan confirmed. "We had Tayo up there on his own and he’d done well at Leyton Orient in that role but having someone up there with him acting as a bit of a foil meant he wasn’t the main concern. It took some of the attention off him and he could get in.”
Arrowsmith’s enterprising run from left-back was ended on the edge of the penalty area, allowing Coker the chance to drill a dangerous delivery into the box. Anyadike was stationed in front of the goalkeeper, leaving him unsighted as Brown ghosted in and flicked the ball through his legs from a couple of yards out.
The threat from the U’s wasn’t over, and on the hour Arrowsmith again flung himself in front of a fierce shot to charge it down. Then, midway through the second half, Brown was cautioned for a foul on the edge of the ‘D’, but the resultant set-piece was curled over.
With 15 minutes remaining, Blues had the opportunity to move further clear as Adedoja latched onto an inch-perfect Jaden Crowhurst through-ball and attempted to round the goalkeeper. The Cambridge gloveman brought him down, but he immediately atoned for the error by parrying Coker’s penalty kick to safety.
Southend did double their advantage within 60 seconds when Oli Coker found Adedoja just inside Cambridge territory. The first-year scholar showed his strength to hold off a defender before entering the penalty area and steering his third goal in the last three matches into the bottom left-hand corner.
The second goal finally broke the spirits of the home side, and Blues almost added a third in the 79th minute when substitute Bobby Unwin curled a 30-yard free-kick against the top of the crossbar. Southend return to Boots & Laces next Saturday to protect the only unbeaten record in the division against Peterborough United.
Southend United U18s: Jamie Grossart, Tommy Davis, Louie Arrowsmith, Callum Burkey, Ergis Shala, Jimmy Wallace, Damaray Anyadike (Bobby Unwin, 76), Jaden Crowhurst, Adetayo Adedoja, Oli Coker, Cameron Brown. Unused substitutes: Brian Garzon, Luke Reeve.
Goals: Brown (57), Adedoja (76).
Cautioned: Shala (15, foul tackle), Brown (foul tackle).