Southend United U23s Manager Craig Fagan could not hide his disappointment despite Blues rescuing a 3-3 draw away to Cheshunt in a friendly on Wednesday afternoon.
Jon Benton’s 89th-minute spot-kick meant that the young Shrimpers claimed a share of the spoils having twice trailed a Cheshunt XI comprised of a mixture of players returning from injury, fringe talents and trialists. Benton had earlier given Blues the lead, with Miles Mitchell-Nelson notching the other Southend goal.
“I thought we were very lucky to get a draw,” said Fagan. “I was very disappointed in terms of what I asked for and what we’re about at Southend United within the Academy, in terms of closing down and doing things as a team and trying things when we’ve got the football.”
“I think the mindset was wrong after turning up last week against Luton and then coming up against part of a non-league team and a mixture of other players. I think they thought they were going to turn up today and walk it, so I’m quite happy that they’ve got a bit of a lesson and it shows why you need to be on your game 100%,” he added.
When Benton put Southend in front after just five minutes, it appeared that the visitors may reproduce the impressive display they had put in against Luton Town in their previous encounter. The midfielder collected the ball on the left-hand apex of the penalty area and cut across his marker before arrowing his shot into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
On this occasion the lead lasted just twelve minutes as Cheshunt levelled from the penalty spot. Captain Rob Howard was adjudged to have brought down an attacker just inside the area and Ayman Gharbaoui sent Callum Taylor the wrong way from twelve yards out.
One of three Blues trialists smashed over from the edge of the penalty area at the other end, but Cheshunt edged deservedly in front after casual play at the back gifted Odysseas Spyridis possession. He waltzed through the heart of the Southend defence before picking out the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
Cheshunt continued to capitalise on a lacklustre Southend display, and Howard did well to cut out a driven right-wing centre before nodding another delivery off the goal-line on the half-hour. In-between, Taylor made a smart stop from an attacker’s snapshot.
As a consequence, when Mitchell-Nelson equalised in the 35th minute it came against the run of play. Benton was involved again, finding Michael Klass with a short corner, and he laid the ball off to the central defender in space around 15 yards out. Mitchell-Nelson then thumped an unstoppable shot into the left-hand portion of the net.
Eren Kinali could have put Southend into a half-time lead when he sliced a Benton corner over whilst leaning backwards, whilst the hosts almost scored a third of their own when an attacker dragged a shot inches wide of the left-hand post in the 42nd minute.
Cheshunt continued in a similar vein after the break, with a headed goal ruled out for offside and Taylor making a useful save just before the hour mark. Taylor also did well on 63 minutes to turn a thunderous strike away from goal at his near post.
However, the former Northern Ireland youth international custodian was powerless to prevent Cheshunt from getting the go-ahead goal in the 66th minute. This time the ball was moved down the right flank before being crossed to the far post, where Erald Desa was on hand to tap home.
Fagan introduced Bobby Unwin and Freddy Eastwood to try to freshen things up in attack, but instead Taylor made another good block with his legs before a 77th-minute finish was hooked wide by a Cheshunt forward. A trialist did curl over from 25 yards out for Blues, but there was still little sign they would get something from the game.
Benton had not given up, though, and he drew a foul from a Cheshunt defender before slamming his penalty kick beyond the goalkeeper with seconds remaining. “It was not the greatest day we’ve had with the U23s and some of the lads have said it was the worst game they’ve been involved in,” Fagan revealed.
“They’ve let themselves down, they know that and, after what they’ve said to me, they recognise it, which is good. It shows that we’ve got a good group and it shows that they understand what we’re telling them, so we move onto the next game against Oxford in the cup and I’ll definitely be looking for a better performance.”
Southend United U23s: Callum Taylor, Reiss Chandler (Trialist, 46), Ide Osimeh, O’Shane Stewart (Trialist, 66), Miles Mitchell-Nelson, Rob Howard, Eren Kinali, Trialist (Trialist, 46), Issa Mpenga (Bobby Unwin, 68), Michael Klass (Freddy Eastwood, 72), Jon Benton. Substitute not used: Jamie Grossart.
Goals: Benton (5, 89 pen), Mitchell-Nelson (35).
Cautioned: Howard (56, foul tackle).