Southend United U18s returned to action following a three-week hiatus with a 3-0 victory over Luton Town at Boots & Laces on Saturday.
The Hatters arrived in south-east Essex unbeaten in their four EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference fixtures to date, but Callum Burkey nodded Blues in front in just the ninth minute and goals from Oli Coker and Adetayo Adedoja during the second half secured the three points for the hosts.
U23s coach Craig Fagan took charge of the side, which included U16s goalkeeper George Murray-Jones as Jamie Grossart served his one-match suspension following a red card in the 1-1 draw with Gillingham. Kenny Coker was with the first-team squad, so fellow first-year scholar Adedoja led the line.
Midfielder Burkey was starting his first U18s match after replacing Brian Garzon in the line-up, and he scored his first youth team goal to give Southend the lead. Burkey rose above his marker at the near post to loop Coker’s right-wing corner over the goalkeeper and inside the far post.
It was just the fillip the team needed after making a sluggish start to the encounter, with a right-wing centre having been swept over in the second minute and debutant Murray-Jones making a confidence-boosting first save as he got his body behind a close-range attempt shortly afterwards.
The Hatters continued to pile forwards after the goal as well, and when Murray-Jones raced off his line and was lobbed by a left-wing cross in the 13th minute, captain Jimmy Wallace did well to put a Luton forward off his finish, which was headed wide.
As the first half progressed, Blues began to find their stride. Coker’s slide-rule pass to Damaray Anyadike in the 18th minute saw the winger direct his shot into the gloves of the visiting goalkeeper, and the same fate befell Cameron Brown when his 25-yard free-kick was curled over the wall.
Although Southend began to see more of the ball in the latter stages of the opening period, their best opportunities remained from set-pieces, with both Brown and left-back Louie Arrowsmith curling over either side of Wallace breaking up a Luton counter-attack on 33 minutes.
When Blues did manage to fashion a half-chance from open play, with Burkey bursting into the penalty area after exchanging passes with Adedoja, his path was blocked by a defender and the advantage remained slender as the half-time whistle sounded.
Southend were dealt a blow when right-back Harrison Clayden picked up an injury as he was fouled in his own half just a couple of minutes after the restart. He was replaced by Ergis Shala, necessitating a shift to full-back for Tommy Davis.
However, in the 58th minute, a fine team goal doubled the lead for the teenage Shrimpers. Jaden Crowhurst drove the team forwards with a stylish run through midfield before slipping the ball to his left and picking out the run of Brown. He cut the ball back to the edge of the six-yard box, where Coker steered his finish into the roof of the net.
Within three minutes it could have been 3-0 as Crowhurst collected possession 30 yards from goal and sent a thunderous attempt whistling past the right-hand upright, signalling that Blues had begun to play with a swagger. This was exemplified on 64 minutes when Anyadike attempted an audacious first-time volley from Brown’s cross-field pass, only to fire over.
Luton threatened a fight-back eight minutes later, and Shala and Wallace combined to block a near-post shot before Murray-Jones did well to turn away the follow-up from point-blank range. Still the danger wasn’t averted, but a Luton attacker angled his effort across the face of goal.
Any lingering doubts about the destination of the three points were extinguished a quarter-of-an-hour from the end when Adedoja contributed his first goal of the campaign. The forward outpaced a defender to latch onto Wallace’s lofted through-ball and stroke beyond the Luton goalkeeper to make it 3-0.
Bobby Unwin made his return from injury and U16s winger Omari Williams was handed his first youth-team appearance as a late substitute as Southend withstood some late pressure to preserve the clean sheet. Murray-Jones made a fine stop at his near post and, when a stoppage-time free-kick was cleared, there were jubilant cheers at a second shut-out of the season.
Blues U18s are back in action on Tuesday afternoon when they travel to Leyton Orient for a rearranged EFL Youth Alliance Cup Preliminary Round tie before heading to Cambridge United next Saturday in the league.
Southend United U18s: George Murray-Jones, Harrison Clayden (Ergis Shala, 51), Louie Arrowsmith, Callum Burkey, Tommy Davis, Jimmy Wallace, Damaray Anyadike (Omari Williams, 88), Jaden Crowhurst (Bobby Unwin, 74), Adetayo Adedoja, Oli Coker, Cameron Brown. Substitute not used: Luke Reeve.
Goals: Burkey (9), Coker (58), Adedoja (75).
Cautioned: Crowhurst (45, dangerous play), Wallace (90+2, foul tackle).