Blues fell behind early on against the Gills at Boots & Laces and were further hindered midway through the second half when goalkeeper Jamie Grossart was dismissed. However, with defender Harrison Clayden forced to go in goal, Kenny Coker netted his first goal of the season to claim a share of the spoils. 

“Gillingham scored after just three minutes and it took us quite a while to get going,” explained Heath. “During the first 25 minutes we weren’t as good as we can be, but from that point we were the better team.” 

“Jamie was sent off in the 65th minute and Harrison had to go in goal. There was no George Murray-Jones available as he is injured at the moment, but the first thing Harrison did was save a free-kick and from that Kenny went up the other end and scored.” 

“It was a great little run from Kenny on the right-hand side, he broke into the penalty area and ghosted past three defenders before passing the ball into the far corner of the net,” Heath added. 

Despite his dismissal, Heath had words of consolation for Grossart: “Jamie handled the ball outside the box, but he had no choice as Gillingham would’ve scored. He said after the match that he’d taken one for the team, and that’s right.” 

“Jamie has won us plenty of games in the past with some quality saves, and these things happen. Even after the red card we created enough chances to go on and win the game and we did well at the back to block shots and put our bodies on the line,” he said. 

Heath also felt that being reduced to ten men was a useful exercise for the squad about how they deal with such situations, revealing that they do a lot of work around this in training. 

“We adapted to a change in formation to playing three at the back in a 3-4-2,” he said. “We work on playing with ten men, or having an extra man, as part of our training blocks and the boys demonstrated their understanding on Saturday.” 

“Gillingham were a good team, and I believe they’ll be up there at the end of the season. It was a good match between two good teams and it could prove to be a valuable point. We deserved to take something from the game.” 

Heath concluded by singling out substitute Callum Burkey for his performance after being introduced in the first half: “All of the players, to a man, would’ve been rated as a 7 out of 10 or higher,” he declared. 

“Callum, when he came on, was the best player on the pitch. He won his tackles and headers and got us going forwards from midfield. For a first-year scholar his general communication and all-round organisation was very good.” 

Southend United U18s: Jamie Grossart, Harrison Clayden, Louie Arrowsmith, Jaden Crowhurst (Callum Burkey, 25), Tommy Davis, Jimmy Wallace, Demaray Anyadike, Brian Garzon (Mo Amir, 65), Kenny Coker, Oli Coker, Adetayo Adedoja. 

Goals: K Coker (70) 

Dismissed: Grossart (65, denying a goalscoring opportunity). 

Supporters are reminded that all U18s games are currently behind-closed-doors and not open to the public for the foreseeable future.