A three-goal blitz in the final six minutes of the match consigned Southend United U23s to a 4-0 defeat against Fulham in the Premier League Cup at Motspur Park on Tuesday evening.
Kieron Bowie had put the Lilywhites ahead in the 11th minute, but an inspired goalkeeping display by Collin Andeng Ndi kept the young Shrimpers in the game right up until the 84th minute, when late goals by Ollie O’Neill, Steven Sessegnon and Jean-Pierre Tiehi saw Fulham ease away.
Andeng Ndi was one of three professionals named in Danny Heath’s starting line-up, with midfielder O’Shane Stewart and left-back Tom Clifford, who was making his return after a lengthy spell on the sidelines with an ankle injury, the others.
By contrast Fulham named a strong team, which included Alfie Mawson - a veteran of over 250 matches as a professional- and Bowie, who played 39 matches as a teenager for Scottish Professional Football League outfit Raith Rovers.
Andeng Ndi was cautioned in the first minute when he was late to meet Bowie as he raced out of the penalty area to attempt to make a clearance, but the young shotstopper was soon seen making a good save to his left to deny Sessegnon.
Southend were struggling to gain any sort of foothold in the game, and it was no surprise when Fulham’s possession finally told in the eleventh minute after Marlon Fossey had exchanged passes with Sonny Hilton on the right-hand side. Fossey squared to Bowie, who smashed the ball into the roof of the net from the apex of the six-yard box.
O’Neill and Bowie both saw speculative efforts from 25 yards out clear the crossbar either side of Andeng Ndi coming off his line quickly to smother the ball at the feet of Tiehi after Clifford had failed to find Luke Reeve with a square pass across the edge of the penalty area.
More quick-thinking from Andeng Ndi in the 27th minute saw the Blues custodian scoop the ball off the toecaps of Tiehi after he attempted to latch onto Adrion Pajaziti’s slide-rule pass, and in the 29th minute he was grateful that Hilton smashed the ball straight into his midriff from Bowie’s cut-back.
Fulham continued to build momentum, and Jaden Crowhurst did well to block a ferocious Hilton shot on the edge of the penalty area after half-an-hour before Andeng Ndi brilliantly denied O’Neill with a full-length dive to his left-hand side to turn the ball around the right-hand post.
Hilton fired straight at Andeng Ndi again when the hosts hit Blues on the counter-attack after Reeve had failed to apply the finish from a deep free-kick at the other end. A difficult opening period for Clifford was compounded on 36 minutes when he was robbed by Fossey, who was thwarted again by Andeng Ndi at his full extension.
Southend were starting to see a little more of the ball, and Demaray Anyadike fired wildly over on 37 minutes before play switched again to the opposite end, when Hilton drew a comfortable stop from Andeng Ndi after using a defender to shield the ball from the gloveman’s sight.
As the half drew towards a close, Bowie fizzed an effort across the face of goal and Ergis Shala made an important block to deny Pajaziti before Andeng Ndi produced more heroics, standing tall to push the luckless Hilton’s effort around the far post with a strong right hand.
The first half ended with Cameron Brown drawing the first save of the game from Fulham’s Damian Las, who managed to push away the midfielder’s rasping attempt from 25 yards out in the second minute of stoppage time.
Blues made a good start to the second period and could have equalised two minutes after the restart when Stewart - who had netted with a stunning strike in the return fixture at Roots Hall - sent a dipping effort goalwards from the edge of the penalty area.
Las made another good save and, from Clifford’s resultant corner, Shala thought he had levelled with a powerful header that the match officials deemed had not crossed the whitewash, much to the chagrin of the third-year centre-half.
It transpired that those few moments would be Southend’s best opportunity to get back into the game, with Reeve inches away from converting Clifford’s inswinging free-kick at the far post in the 55th minute.
Clifford was beginning to get up to speed, and he did well to read a Pajaziti pass and block Fossey’s route to goal, before being withdrawn on 71 minutes. By then Andeng Ndi had shown his process again, sprawling to his right in the 56th minute to push out substitute Luciano D’Auria Henry’s skidding strike.
Just before the hour mark it looked as though Bowie would double his personal tally after bringing down a raking cross-field pass, but Andeng Ndi made a superb point-blank block to deny him. Seven minutes later Hilton curled wide of the right-hand post before Jaden Crowhurst cleared a later Hilton attempt off the goal-line.
Sessegnon wasted a good chance when he hooked over from eight yards out in the 71st minute, but the Blues goal was, by now, under constant attack, and Tiehi skewed wastefully wide from O’Neill’s pass with thirteen minutes remaining.
Andeng Ndi made another outstanding save sixty seconds later, getting down low to turn Tiehi’s thunderous strike around the right-hand post, before he saved again from Hilton twice in quick succession. The first was a routine stop, but the second was once again out of the top drawer as he reached skywards to tip the playmaker’s attempt over.
Unfortunately, with six minutes remaining, Southend’s resistance was broken. Henry and Hilton combined on the left-hand side with some excellent one-touch football, and the later eventually picked out O’Neill, who thumped the ball home from ten yards out to leave Andeng Ndi with no chance.
Less than two minutes later it was 3-0 as Bowie turned provider with the Lilywhites’ next attack and he squared the ball from the left-hand side of the penalty area to Sessegnon, who stroked home first-time into the bottom right-hand corner.
Pajaziti sent an effort wide before playing a part in the fourth goal in the 90th minute. Andeng Ndi couldn’t hold the midfielder’s fierce effort, and Tiehi was on hand to sweep home the rebound as Fulham mirrored Stoke City's quickfire burst in Blues' previous encounter in the competition.
Fulham continued to ruthlessly search for goals, with O’Neill hitting the outside of the right-hand post and Andeng Ndi making an injury-time save, but the 4-0 scoreline means Southend’s chances of progressing in the competition are reliant on other results, including two victories in the final two matches at home to Colchester United and Stoke in the New Year.
Southend United U23s: Collin Andeng Ndi, Jaden Crowhurst, Tom Clifford (Louie Arrowsmith 71'), O’Shane Stewart, Luke Reeve (Patrick Droney 63'), Ergis Shala, Demaray Anyadike (Omari Williams 85'), Cameron Brown, Tommy Lambourne, Brian Garzon, Bobby Unwin. Unused substitutes: Jamie Grossart, Tendi Quamina.
Cautioned: Andeng Ndi (1' foul tackle), Brown (7' foul tackle).