Southend United U23s suffered a 3-1 defeat to 2021 FA Trophy winners Hornchurch at Bridge Avenue in their latest pre-season outing.
O’Shane Stewart scored the only Blues goal of the game from the penalty spot shortly before half-time, halving a two-goal deficit created by Liam Nash and Chris Dickson. Charlie Stimson added a third early in the second half, but Southend did test Hornchurch goalkeeper Finley Thackway, particularly through Oli Coker and Cameron Brown.
“I thought it was good to get minutes in the legs of the boys again,” remarked youth development phase coach Mark Moss. “Hornchurch were a really good side; they were very well organised and they play with a good shape. You can see why they’ve just won The FA Trophy, so it’s a good experience for the boys playing in front of a crowd.”
With a number of regular U23s players stepping up to the first-team squad for their friendly at Great Wakering Rovers this was a noticeably young squad, including two trialists and youth team defenders Luke Reeve and Patrick Droney.
Both were involved during the opening quarter-of-an-hour, with Droney shepherding Dickson away from goal before clearing for a throw in and Reeve timing a challenge on Nash to perfection to prevent a sighting of Collin Andeng Ndi’s goal.
In between Andeng Ndi did make an excellent save low to his right-hand side to push a rasping Dickson effort around his near post. The hosts were on top, and Rickie Hayles sent a powerful header inches over the crossbar in the 16th minute.
First-year scholar Droney stole the ball from Dickson as he attempted to get the ball out of his feet on the edge of the penalty area four minutes later, whilst his central defensive colleague Reeve was in hand to charge down a fierce Nash strike midway through the opening period.
Blues continued to struggle to earn any lengthy spells of possession, with Stewart dropping deep to collect the ball from his defenders in a bid to instigate some attacks. It proved to be a forlorn hope, and Hornchurch took the lead in the 32nd minute.
Former Gillingham forward Nash was the scorer, having initially been thwarted by a parried stop by Andeng Ndi. The ball then bounced around in the penalty area before being delightfully curled into the top left-hand corner of the net.
Within two minutes the Urchins had doubled their advantage. Former Blues youngster Ellis Brown was the instigator, holding the ball up on the left-hand side of the penalty area and shielding it from Reiss Chandler before teeing up Dickson for a clinical ten-yard finish.
Dickson failed to repay the compliment in the 38th minute, but by that time Coker had driven a shot into the side-netting for the Shrimpers and, in the 41st minute, he was sent sprawling in the area after exchanging passes with Stewart. The skipper stepped up to send Thackway the wrong way and make it 2-1.
“Oli Coker was probably the best player on the pitch, so that was a massive positive,” said professional development phase coach Danny Heath. “Their coaches and players were saying that at the end of the match.”
“We spoke to the boys at half-time about utilising Oli Coker more because of their two central midfield players and us having three in there. We felt we had a spare man in front of our two centre halves, which meant Oli was coming too deep.”
“However, the move for our penalty came from players taking responsibility in midfield to find Oli on the transition, to get him on the ball and allow him to drive into the box to win the penalty,” Heath added.
Bobby Unwin fired over shortly before half-time, and seven minutes after the interval Chandler had an excellent opportunity to equalise at the far post from Coker’s free-kick, only to side-foot wide having netted the only goal of the game on Saturday at East Thurrock United.
Two minutes later Hornchurch were 3-1 up. A superb right-wing cross by Mickey Parcell picked out the forward run of Charlie Stimson, and he swept the ball beyond Andeng Ndi to stretch the advantage.
Charlie Ruff smashed a shot into the side-netting soon after for the Urchins, but Blues were inches away from reducing the arrears once again on the hour when Brown drifted inside from the left touchline and curled the ball against the top of the crossbar.
Andeng Ndi made saves from Stimson, Ruff and a Hornchurch trialist as the game progressed, but he was not exerted as much as Thackway midway through the second period as he was required to get down at full stretch to his right-hand side to turn away a Coker strike.
Two minutes later the Urchins goalkeeper was at it again, leaping up to push Brown’s long-range effort over the crossbar and, on 76 minutes, Unwin whipped a 25-yard free-kick narrowly wide of the right-hand post.
Cameron Brown also curled a set-piece over in the closing stages, but Hornchurch also had chances to add gloss to the scoreline, with Andeng Ndi collecting Sak Hassan’s attempted lob and Ellis Brown side-footing wide in the final minute with the goal at his mercy.
“It was quite a young team again, and in the first half I don’t think we were really at it, but in the second half we came out and won more tackles and won more second balls and we started to play our football more,” said Moss.
“There were positives, but we’ve got to go away and look at the match and reflect on the bits we’ve got to work on. In the first half we didn’t get close enough or tight enough to players when out lof possession, but in the second we looked more mobile as a defensive unit.”
“It’s a really good test for the boys to play against men, and a really well-drilled and organised non-league side. You can tell why they have been so successful,” he concluded.
Southend United U23s: Collin Andeng Ndi, Reiss Chandler, Trialist A (Mitch Fallows, 46), O’Shane Stewart (Trialist B, 77), Luke Reeve, Patrick Droney, Cameron Brown, Trialist B (Jaden Crowhurst, 46), Tendi Quamina (Tayo Adedoja, 46), Oli Coker, Bobby Unwin (Quamina, 79).
Goal: Stewart (41 pen).