Southend United U23s completed their preparations for the new season with a goalless draw away to Isthmian North club Hullbridge Sports at Lower Road.
Coach Craig Fagan named a very youthful team which included two second-year scholars in Jimmy Wallace and Oli Coker and three first-years in the shape of full-back Louie Arrowsmith and forwards Kenny Coker and Adetayo Adedoja.
“It was a young team because there are a lot of U23s in the first team, but I liked the desire to win tackles and to run around with a purpose. The younger lads came in with an enthusiasm to do that, but they also kept the football well and played some decent stuff,” said Fagan.
“Some of them were a bit nervous to start off with. I don’t mean that they were scared to be out there, but they were too scared to give the ball away, which led them to do that. After the first 10-15 minutes they did a lot better and they grew in confidence. I was very impressed.”
Perhaps the best opportunity Blues had to score arrived in just the eighth minute when Oli Coker slid the ball into the path of namesake Kenny on the left-hand side of the penalty area. The forward, who made his first-team debut last season, side-footed inches wide of the right-hand post with just goalkeeper Laurence Whymark to beat.
By that time Hullbridge had twice come close to netting themselves as Callum Taylor had to be alert to tip a back-pass over the crossbar and Perry Dunn then nodded inches wide from the ensuing corner. Taylor followed that by gathering a low strike from the edge of the penalty.
Play switched to the opposite end after a quarter-of-an-hour when Adedoja picked out Jon Benton’s run and the midfielder’s 20-yard effort was parried out by Whymark. Kenny Coker brought the rebound under control before seeing his follow-up diverted off the line by Dunn.
From the resultant corner O’Shane Stewart drew another good stop from Sports trialist Whymark as Blues began to impose themselves on the match. The visitors were keeping possession well, although they found opportunities limited throughout the remainder of the first half.
As the opening period approached its conclusion, centre-back Jimmy Wallace did well to track the run of Callum Fitzer and prevent a dangerous cross from being delivered by the hosts before Taylor brilliantly turned away Jay Emmanuel Thomas’ 20-yard attempt.
The second half got underway with Benton’s long-range attempt forcing Whymark into a superb fingertip save, and although the playmaker would also fire narrowly over from a similar distance midway through the period, Hullbridge were the more dominant attacking force at this time.
Nathan Scarborough was found by a fine cross-field pass just before the hour mark, only to drag his strike across the face of goal, before Fitzer was denied by a flying save by Taylor, flinging himself to his left-hand side.
The Northern Ireland youth international then turned another Fitzer effort around the left-hand post before Blues returned to the front foot with Oli Coker’s driving run seeing him steer a shot into the gloves of Whymark. Substitute Cameron Brown saw two attempts from the edge of the penalty area deflected off-target, whilst Stewart drilled wide from 25 yards out.
However, it was Taylor that had the final say as he prevented Eman Okunja from scoring from an acute angle after the attacker had earned possession in the Blues box. Fagan’s charges now turn their attention to next Wednesday’s Central League Cup opener away to AFC Bournemouth.
Southend United U23s: Callum Taylor, Reiss Chandler, Louie Arrowsmith, O’Shane Stewart, Jimmy Wallace, Miles Mitchell-Nelson, Sam Brogan (Cameron Brown, 64), Jon Benton (Jaden Crowhurst, 88), Kenny Coker (Demaray Anyadike, 64), Oli Coker (Callum Burkey, 88), Adetayo Adedoja. Substitutes not used: Jamie Grossart, Ergis Shala.