Isthmian League Premier Division club Bishop’s Stortford narrowly edged out Southend United U23s in an entertaining friendly at Woodside Park on Tuesday evening.
Blues took control inside the opening twenty minutes with goals from second-year scholars Jaden Crowhurst and Tayo Adedoja, but the hosts decisively netted twice inside three minutes shortly before the break to go in level at half-time.
Stortford grabbed two more goals in the second period, but Jon Benton reduced the arrears from the penalty spot, only for the hosts to quickly make it 5-3. Benton then notched his second goal of the game to set up a grandstand finish, but Southend couldn’t quite find the equaliser.
“I think the over-riding thought from the game is that we scored four good goals that we worked hard to score, but they scored one or two that they maybe didn’t have to work hard for. From our point of view, that’s disappointing in terms of defending our box,” said joint-coach Mark Moss.
In contrast to the team that progressed to the group stages of the Premier League Cup for the first time in the club’s history last week against Stevenage, only captain Miles Mitchell-Nelson and full-back Reiss Chandler had first-team experience in the starting line-up, with two first-years and two second-years involved from the outset.
Despite that, Blues were quickly out of the blocks once goalkeeper Fin Purcell had gathered a low shot in the sixth minute. Within seconds the visitors were in front as Crowhurst timed his run to perfection, latching onto a Mitchell-Nelson through-ball to gently lift his finish beyond the advancing goalkeeper.
Further chances arrived swiftly as Blues continued to move the ball quickly and trouble their opponents. Tendi Quamina pressurised a defender to earn an opening for Cameron Brown, who saw a shot blocked, before Mitchell-Nelson nodded over from Benton’s free-kick and Quamina smashed off-target.
A Stortford attacker went close, dragging a shot wide of the left-hand upright in the 18th minute, but again that merely served to act as a prelude to a Southend goal. This time centre-half Jimmy Wallace picked out Adedoja with a pass and the forward held off his marker before slamming his shot inside the near post and out of the reach of an unsuspecting goalkeeper.
Blues were in the ascendancy at this stage, with Quamina forcing an excellent save from the goalkeeper following a Reiss Chandler cross, but Stortford were slowly beginning to get back into the game and Purcell made a smart stop before a couple of shots were sent narrowly off-target.
The match was turned on its head with Stortford’s quickfire double. The first goal arrived as the result of a thumping shot from 15 yards out six minutes before the break, and the second was the culmination of a sustained period of pressure that saw a hanging right-wing cross powerfully nodded past Purcell.
“It’s something we’ve got to look at and something we’ve got to work on,” said Moss. “I was disappointed with the first two goals; I felt they were quite soft from our point of view. We’re a young side, and we have to learn from this. We’ll go away and watch the goals back and reflect on it.”
Bobby Unwin attempted to respond a couple of minutes before the interval, but he saw his strike saved by a scrambling goalkeeper, and although the winger teed up Benton for a shot that was screwed wide five minutes into the second half, the tide had turned.
A Stortford attacker failed to make the required connection at the far post to convert a deep free-kick on 52 minutes, and Purcell made a good stop just before the hour mark after a couple of attempts had flown narrowly over.
The home side took the lead midway through the second period with a stooping header at the near post from a right-wing corner and, despite Brown advancing through midfield before sending a shot straight at the goalkeeper, they extended that advantage on 75 minutes when a right-wing centre was clinically dispatched at the far post.
There was no question of Southend letting Stortford dominate, however, and substitute Tommy Lambourne - back after a year out through injury - played his part in a partial fightback by winning a penalty after getting goal-side of a defender, with Benton sending the goalkeeper the wrong way from the spot to halve the deficit eight minutes from time.
Stortford immediately restored their two-goal lead as another right-wing centre was converted from close range, but Benton pulled Blues to within one goal of parity once again on 86 minutes after Lambourne and Brown helped the ball into his path and he calmly took a touch before steering his 15-yard strike into the bottom left-hand corner.
If any team was going to score in the closing stages, it was more likely to be Blues, and half-time sub Habib Bolarinwa was inches away from connecting with Benton free-kick at the back post before Lambourne couldn’t get the ball out of his feet to get an effective shot on goal from Quamina’s cut-back.
Southend ended the match beaten, but Moss felt the squad will have picked up crucial experience throughout the ninety minutes: “I think the team has got character. That runs through the whole club, from the U9s to the U16s, into Danny’s U18s and the U23s and the first team,” he said.
“We don’t tend to give up and we don’t tend to die in games; we keep going until the end. I think we’ll win more games than we lose if we continue with that attitude.
“When you play against teams like that and they have more physical characters than you, you have to be cleverer than them, and you have to move the ball quicker than them. When we did that tonight, we looked really good.
“They are very experienced at drawing you into a battle, and there were times when they did that to us. It’s a young team and they are still learning, but we will get better throughout the season at playing our way and standing up to physical tests,” he concluded.
Southend United U18s: Fin Purcell, Reiss Chandler, Mitch Fallows, Jaden Crowhurst (Jacob Bland, 60), Miles Mitchell-Nelson (Habib Bolarinwa, 46), Jimmy Wallace (Luke Reeve, 73), Tayo Adedoja (Trialist, 67), Cameron Brown, Tendi Quamina, Jon Benton, Bobby Unwin (Tommy Lambourne, 71).
Goals: Crowhurst (7), Adedoja (19), Benton (82 pen, 86).