Southend United U23s were defeated 3-1 by Oxford United in their opening EFL Central League Cup South Group fixture of the season on Tuesday afternoon.
The match at Oxford Sports Park was a typical game of two halves as Blues led at the break through Jon Benton’s 36th-minute strike, only for Joel Cooper to score twice after the interval either side of a Derick Osei Yaw finish.
On a pristine playing surface, Southend kept the ball well during the opening period, although it was the hosts that provided the first shot on goal when Dylan Asonganyi fired the ball into Callum Taylor’s gloves. Seven minutes later Leon Chambers-Parillon curled wide from the edge of the penalty area for the hosts.
Patient build-up play from the visitors created the first opportunity for midfielder Chay Cooper, a former Blues Academy player who is with the club on a work experience loan contract from Tottenham Hotspur. He warmed the gloves of Kie Plumley in the Oxford goal with a driven 25-yard effort.
Play immediately switched to the opposite end where full-back Reiss Chandler did well to divert Asonganyi’s close-range header out for a corner but, as the first half continued, Southend began to carve out the better chances.
On 19 minutes first-year scholar Tayo Adedoja’s persistence earned him an opening as he chased down a long pass and stole the ball from Plumley. The forward cut back and attempted to turn the ball home, but Oxford defender Nico Jones tracked back to block the ball.
Six minutes later Eren Kinali won the ball on the halfway line and raced down the right-hand side before cutting back into the path of Cooper, who fired straight at Plumley. And, with the half-hour mark still yet to be reached, O’Shane Stewart fed Benton, who smashed over from 30 yards out.
Oxford, playing into the wind before the break, then replied. Taylor fumbled a right-wing centre but reacted quickly to gather at the feet of substitute Jack Stevens before saving from Stevens in the 33rd minute. Miles Mitchell-Nelson then headed away successive left-wing crosses before Taylor pushed Joel Cooper’s ferocious strike over.
Against that backdrop, Blues took the lead against the run of play. Issa Mpenga chased a long ball down the left-hand side before dispossessing Kyran Lofthouse. He then fed possession to Benton, who steered home from just outside the penalty area.
The U’s attempted to equalise before the half-time interval and Mitchell-Nelson was required to clear a Lofthouse attempt off the goal-line in the 40th minute. Sixty seconds later Taylor palmed Osei Yaw’s right-footed strike around the post to keep Craig Fagan’s team ahead at the break.
Southend could be pleased with their work in the opening 45 minutes, but they were stunned when Oxford levelled within 16 seconds of the restart. Cooper collected the ball and twisted and turned to create space 30 yards out before smashing the ball through Taylor’s gloves and into the net.
Despite the setback, Blues almost bounced back straight away when Benton combined with Chay Cooper in midfield to set up Stewart on the right-hand apex of the penalty area, but his fierce strike cannoned off the crossbar and away.
And, although Stewart also fired wide a few moments later, Southend were slowly forced backwards into their own half. Joel Cooper curled wide of the far post for the U’s as he sought a quickfire second goal and, in the 57th minute, Osei Yaw put the hosts in front as a throw-in went unchallenged and the French U20 international arrowed home via the inside of the right-hand post.
Fagan made a series of changes with second-year scholar Bobby Unwin joined on the field by trialists Imaad Sankoh and Jamal Balogun. However, the tide had turned and Gardner curled a free-kick over for Oxford before Taylor blocked a Stevens effort with his legs in the 80th minute.
The scoring was completed with four minutes remaining as Joel Cooper who, like Osei Yaw, has featured for the first-team at the Kassam Stadium this term, picked his spot with a classy finish into the bottom left-hand corner shortly after the forward’s shot had been repelled by Taylor. Blues U23s now turn their attention to the visit of AFC Bournemouth on 4th November.
Southend United U23s: Callum Taylor, Reiss Chandler, Ide Osimeh (Freddy Eastwood, 85), O’Shane Stewart, Miles Mitchell-Nelson, Rob Howard, Eren Kinali, Chay Cooper (Jamal Balogun, 65), Issa Mpenga (Bobby Unwin, 57), Jon Benton, Tayo Adedoja (Imaad Sankoh, 65). Substitute not used: Jamie Grossart.
Goals: Benton (36)
Cautioned: Howard (44, foul tackle), Stewart (76, foul tackle).