Eren Kinali scored a brace of goals for the second consecutive week as Southend United U23s defeated Crawley Town 3-1 in a friendly at Garon Park on Wednesday afternoon.
The 20-year-old winger was on target either side of a close-range Matt Rush finish to help Blues overturn an early deficit handed to Crawley from the penalty spot as Craig Fagan’s side built on last Wednesday’s 3-0 victory away to Watford.
"We didn’t start well in the first half,” said Fagan. "It wasn’t good enough, and I let the lads know that, but in the second half we played like the team we are. There were two or three lads that are usually with the first team, and the rest are normally with me. Because it was much better in the second half, we then managed to get some U18s on."
One youth team player who was named in the starting line-up was schoolboy shotstopper Finley Purcell. The gloveman made his U18s debut on Saturday and made a string of fine saves in a narrow 2-1 defeat to league winners Peterborough United, and he followed that with a mature performance than belied his tender years against the Red Devils.
Southend could have taken the lead in the 14th minute, but O’Shane Stewart’s shot was delivered at a comfortable height for the goalkeeper after he found himself in space in the Crawley penalty area. Nine minutes later, Miles Mitchell-Nelson – who scored against the Hornets – chipped a Harry Phillips corner over from 12 yards out.
In-between, the hosts had been on the back foot with skipper Rob Howard required to step in front of an attacker to charge down a shot after a quarter-of-an-hour and another forward smashing narrowly over on 18th minutes. Shortly afterwards Purcell made an excellent save low to his right-hand side to push out a fierce shot directed towards his near post.
However, Blues had seemed to be starting to link-up well when the visitors edged in front. Stewart had just skewed a Kinali knockdown wide on the half-volley when a Crawley attacker was pulled down at the opposite end and the referee awarded a penalty. Purcell correctly guessed the destination of the 27th-minute spot-kick, but he couldn’t prevent the ball from squirming underneath his body.
Despite seeing his side go behind, former Intersports youngster Kinali was becoming ever more influential in the game, and the Crawley goalkeeper did well to claim a hanging Eastwood cross above the flanker’s head before Kinali nodded a Mitchell-Nelson flick-on inches over following another Phillips corner.
On 38 minutes, he hauled Blues level. Kinali started the move with a neat pass out to Stewart, who was occupying his team-mate’s usual left-wing berth. The stylish midfielder touched the ball inside to Rush, who moved it on quickly to Kinali and he swept his shot past the goalkeeper and into the bottom left-hand corner of the net from ten yards out.
Kinali could have added to his tally before the break, but he drilled a shot into the gloves of the goalkeeper after controlling a flighted Phillips pass, but Southend would not have to wait long after the break to grab the go-ahead goal. Jon Benton broke into the penalty area and, when his shot was repelled by the goalkeeper, Rush was on hand to tab home the simple rebound five minutes into the second period.
From that moment on, Southend were not in any realistic danger of surrendering their advantage, although Reiss Chandler did well to track the run of a forward to tackle him inside the penalty area, and later substitute Tommy Davis blocked a shot at the end of a mazy run.
Instead, it was more likely that Blues would add to their lead with Eastwood curling into the side-netting after more good combination play from Benton and Rush, whilst the third-year scholar also dragged a shot wide from the ‘D’ on the hour mark.
Brave play from the Crawley goalkeeper stopped Rush from stabbing home a Howard centre seconds later, whilst a less convincing stop saw the custodian block a Phillips effort with his knees at the culmination of a short-corner routine midway through the second half.
As the game progressed, the visiting goalkeeper began to become overworked, and Rush sent an attempt into his gloves after good hold-up play by first-year scholar Tayo Adedoja, freshly introduced as a substitute. The third goal finally arrived on 74 minutes when Adedoja stepped over a Howard cross from the right wing and Kinali spun to fire home from 13 yards out.
Fagan made a series of changes in the final quarter-of-an-hour with goalkeeper Collin Andeng, Sam Brogan, Imaad Sankoh, Damary Anyadike, Oli Coker and Issa Mpenga brought on, but it was one of the remaining members of the starting eleven that came closest to netting a fourth, with two minutes remaining, when full-back Ide Osimeh clipped the crossbar after being found by Coker’s quick pass.
"We didn’t start well today, but it was a different test against a team in Crawley that are quite physical but can still handle the football," said Fagan. "I try to play all different teams: non-League, Category One Academies, Category Two Academies; it’s good for the lads to get a different experience.
"This is the only thing we’ve got now. We can’t get any of the lads out on loan, which is disappointing, so I need to get more games for them to play in, and I’ll be trying to do that between now and the end of the season," he added.
Southend United U23s: Finley Purcell (Collin Andeng, 80), Reiss Chandler (Tommy Davis, 68), Ide Osimeh, Harry Phillips (Sam Brogan, 80), Miles Mitchell-Nelson, Rob Howard, O’Shane Stewart (Imaad Sankoh, 80), Matt Rush (Oli Coker, 80), Jon Benton (Tayo Adedoja, 68), Eren Kinali (Issa Mpenga, 89), Freddy Eastwood (Damaray Anyadike, 75).
Goals: Kinali (38, 74), Rush (50).