Eren Kinali’s early brace earned Southend United U23s a 2-1 victory over Luton Town in a friendly fixture at Boots & Laces on Saturday morning.
The 21-year-old, who has made ten appearances for the first team, was deployed in a more advanced position for the encounter against the Hatters, and U23s coach Ian Hart was pleased with how he combined with Issa Mpenga to net twice in the first eight minutes of the match.
“We’ve lost Matt Rush because he was with the first team,” Hart explained. “That’s fantastic and that’s what it’s all about. Issa has come in and done really well because he scored in midweek against Cheshunt and he scored the previous week against Basildon United, whilst Eren has been one of the top goalscorers this season.”
“When we found out that Rushy wasn’t with us, I knew that by putting Eren up front he would be able to do a job. The pleasing thing with both the forwards is that they have contributed to the performance. Issa didn’t score today, but they complemented each other by how hard they worked, and they got their rewards.”
Blues got off to a blistering start and only six minutes had elapsed when the lively Kinali capitalised on some ponderous defending from the visitors and toed the ball clear of the centre-back before being brought down inside the box.
Kinali stepped up to take the penalty and scored with some ease, and he took centre-stage again a minute later as Blues doubled their advantage. This time Kinali latched onto a through-ball and ran in-between the central defenders to guide a delicate lob over the advancing goalkeeper and into the net.
On 17 minutes the home side nearly went 3-0 up when a goal-bound header from Miles Mitchell-Nelson produced a fingertip save from the Luton goalkeeper and, nine minutes later, O’Shane Stewart had a clear sight of goal but blazed his shot over the bar. The midfielder was off-target again just moments later following a great burst forward.
In-between, Luton had appealed for a penalty of their own on 22 minutes following a challenge by Stewart, but the referee showed the Hatters forward a yellow card for simulation. The remainder of the first half was played out with Blues containing any threat, showing composed play and building out from the back.
“In the first half we were in control and there wasn’t too much we were worried about, but we knew they would come out after half-time and have a go because they hadn’t performed at their best. I felt we caused that with our energy and formation and how we played,” Hart said.
Blues made no changes at half-time and, after a quiet start to the second period, Kinali had the first real chance on the hour mark, turning his man beautifully in the area and unleashing a shot that seemed destined for the bottom right-hand corner, only for the Luton ‘keeper to claw the ball away at the expense of a corner.
Luton made a change on 62 minutes with striker Coree Wilson entering the fray, and within seconds of coming on the burly forward made an immediate impact, dispatching an unstoppable right-footed shot past Collin Andeng Ndi in the Blues goal.
Three minutes later some of the Luton players thought they had levelled the scores only to see that the ball had in fact hit the side-netting. The pressure continued to build and, on 74 minutes, Andeng Ndi made a superb save to his left to deny Ed McJannett an equaliser.
“We knew they were either going to up the ante or change formation, so we spoke about that and how they set up by playing a little bit higher and putting pressure on our two centre-backs, so I decided to go to three at the back to try and suck up that pressure a little bit and control the midfield, which we did for the final 10-12 minutes,” revealed Hart.
Tommy Davis was introduced as Southend reverted to a back three, and later Cameron Brown replaced Freddy Eastwood in the midfield. Twelve minutes from time Kinali could have completed his hat-trick, but was again denied by the fingertips of the Luton keeper.
Blues defender Jimmy Wallace found himself in the referee’s notebook on 83 minutes for pulling back a Luton attacker, but the final chance of the match fell to Blues on 89 minutes when Kinali played in Oli Coker with a delightful pass. His right-footed shot seemed to be arcing away from the keeper and into the net, but once again the visiting custodian pulled off another terrific save.
Nonetheless, Southend had secured a 2-1 triumph, mirroring their scoreline in midweek against Isthmian League Premier Division outfit Cheshunt, and Hart will be seeking for another positive performance next Saturday when the squad travel to Isthmian League North Division club Soham Town Rangers.
“You have to put in a lot of energy and work against a side like Luton to match them,” he said. “They are a Championship club, so you know you are going to be in a game. We believed that if we worked harder than them, then we would get some joy because we’ve got some very good football players.”
“I think we did that in the first half, and in the second half they changed it slightly and pinned us back, but we made a couple of adjustments and overall today our goalkeeper has not had a lot to do. I’m very happy with the result,” the Head of Academy Coaching concluded.
Southend United U23s: Collin Andeng Ndi, Sam Brogan (Tommy Davis, 67), Ide Osimeh, O’Shane Stewart, Miles Mitchell-Nelson, Jimmy Wallace, Jon Benton, Oli Coker, Issa Mpenga (Tendi Quamina, 90), Eren Kinali, Freddy Eastwood (Cameron Brown, 80). Unused substitutes: Damaray Anyadike, Ergis Shala, Bobby Unwin.
Goals: Kinali (7 pen, 8).
Cautioned: Wallace (83, unsporting behaviour).