Southend United’s youth team coach Danny Heath hailed Damaray Anyadike’s "perfect" hat-trick as his side kept alive their EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference title aspirations with a 3-2 victory over Northampton Town.
Anyadike scored with his head, his right foot and finally his left foot within the first 21 minutes of the game to hand the teenage Shrimpers a 3-1 lead and, despite a late consolation from Josh Flanagan to add to Liam Cross’ first-half free-kick, Northampton were unable to draw level.
“Damaray is a player that is working hard at his game to develop his finishing to make it even better,” said Heath. “When he has been doing his extras he has been working on his right-foot finishing and his left-foot finishing when he is either central or wide, so I’m really pleased with him and his perfect hat-trick.”
Blues had ended their previous fixture on a high with Oli Coker’s astounding last-minute winner from inside his own half, and an unchanged starting eleven made an immaculate start to this encounter through winger Anyadike, who nodded in Louie Arrowsmith’s hanging left-wing cross at the far post in just the third minute.
“I wasn’t surprised with the start because that’s the quality the boys have got. Damaray has been wanting to get in at the back post to score more goals, and he’s done that for the first goal with his header brilliantly,” Heath continued.
The only sour note was an injury to full-back Arrowsmith after he had collected Tayo Adedoja’s pass to set up the opener, and he was replaced by fellow first-year scholar Harrison Clayden. However, the substitution failed to knock Blues out of their stride, and the lead was doubled within a further three minutes.
Jaden Crowhurst began the move on the right-hand side by finding Oli Coker on the halfway line. There was no thought of reproducing his heroics from seven days earlier as he sent Anyadike clear of the defence with a superb slide-rule pass, and the attacker calmly sent his finish beneath Cobblers goalkeeper Charlie Woods to make it 2-0.
Southend could have added to their advantage just after the quarter-of-an-hour mark when Kenny Coker connected with Oli Coker’s outswinging corner, but the forward fired over and instead Northampton reduced their arrears when Cross precisely curled a 25-yard free-kick into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
The goal gave the visitors – who, like Blues, harboured hopes of edging Peterborough United to the title before the match – belief, and Cross forced Murray-Jones into a smart near-post stop in the 19th minute before forward Jack Connor thumped a shot against the underside of the crossbar and out.
“The message to the boys before the match was that their mindset and their focus was going to be more important than anything else,” Heath revealed. “I thought the test was going to come at 2-1 after we had gone 2-0 up, and they remained focussed on what they needed to do.”
“They hit the bar and we’ve had to make a few blocks, but the boys did what they needed to do. They put their bodies on the line and closed the ball down, and that made it more difficult for the person trying to get the shot away to do so cleanly.”
Having weathered the onslaught, Anyadike completed an 18-minute hat-trick with an excellent finish, having cut in from the right-hand apex of the penalty area onto his left foot. He controlled the ball superbly and dinked it over Woods into the left-hand portion of the goal. The hat-trick doubled the second-year scholar’s tally for the current campaign.
Just before the half-hour mark, Southend had an opportunity to make the game safe when Anyadike burst through again and Woods clattered into him to concede a penalty. The Cobblers custodian atoned for his error by turning away Oli Coker’s spot-kick, and the scoreline remained 3-1.
That would be how it stayed until half-time after good organisational work by the Southend defence. Clayden made a crunching challenge in the penalty area to snuff out a Northampton attack, and Tommy Davis and Anyadike combined to keep the threat away from Murray-Jones’ goal a minute before the break.
Southend came out purposefully in the early stages of the second half, and inside the opening ten minutes Oli Coker had a shot charged down after good build-up play by Brown and Anyadike before Anyadike’s stabbed attempt was deflected wide and Brown smashed wide from distance.
The away side made three substitutes during the first 15 minutes of the second period to try to change the course of the match, and it did affect the pattern of play. Northampton were now on the front foot, and it was the organisational work of captain Jimmy Wallace, Tommy Davis and Callum Burkey that took centre-stage for the hosts.
Goalkeeper Murray-Jones was swiftly off his line to sweep up anything in behind the back-line, and he also made an important save to push away Connor’s close-range finish in the 63rd minute. And, although Brown miskicked when he tried to catch out Woods from the edge of the penalty area for Blues, Northampton had another chance when Kieran Watkins-Robinson blazed over at the back post.
Jimmy Wallace stepped out of defence twice to make important tackles on the Northampton right-hand side, whilst Brown and Crowhurst both headed clear inside the penalty box and, when Tommy Curry did get a shot away for the Cobblers, Murray-Jones had the effort covered as it thudded into the side-netting.
Skipper Wallace made another crucial tackle to prevent Cross from getting a shot in on goal from the right-hand side of the penalty area with three minutes remaining, but Northampton did set up a grandstand finish with sixty seconds remaining through Flanagan, who blasted a Watkins-Robinson centre into the roof of the net.
Northampton had one chance to level in the limited time remaining after Crowhurst brought down Curry on the left-hand side to prevent him entering the penalty area. The resultant free-kick was glanced wide of the far post, and Blues could celebrate a fourth win in the last five games.
“I felt we defended really well,” declared Heath. “When we were defending from the front and through midfield, our shape – by being more compact and not letting them play through us – was good. Our game management, in terms of when we needed to play or when we needed to hit areas up the pitch, was also good.”
“As the season has developed the boys have got better at that, and that comes from them as a group. They are always driving each other on and passing on information to each other, and that helps them out on the pitch. That’s massive for them.”
So were the three points. Blues are now the only team that can deny Peterborough the league title, sitting five points behind next Saturday’s opponents with two matches in hand. The fixture next weekend will be Posh’s final game of the current campaign, whilst Southend also have rearranged matches against AFC Wimbledon, at home, and Gillingham, away, to play.
Southend United U18s: George Murray-Jones, Jaden Crowhurst, Louie Arrowsmith (Harrison Clayden, 4), Callum Burkey, Tommy Davis, Jimmy Wallace, Damaray Anyadike, Cameron Brown, Kenny Coker, Oli Coker, Tayo Adedoja.
Goals: Anyadike (3, 6, 21).
Cautioned: Crowhurst (90, foul tackle).