Goals by Bobby Unwin and Cameron Brown bookended a 2-0 victory for Southend United U23s over Bowers & Pitsea in their latest pre-season outing.
Unwin converted from close-range after a quarter-of-an-hour to put Blues in front against their Isthmian League Premier Division opponents before Cameron Brown seized on the rebound when Louie Rodmell’s strike was parried into his path nine minutes from the end to seal the success.
Lead youth development phase coach Mark Moss was happy with the performance: “It was a really, really good game in terms of physicality, and also in terms of how it looked like a high-level non-league football match,” he reported.
“It was a young team again, and I thought they stood up to the physical test really well. We didn’t really look like conceding a goal all night and we kept another clean sheet, which is pleasing. It was more minutes in the legs and we scored two well-worked goals, so it was a very good night’s work.”
Moss and co-coach Danny Heath were able to call upon the experience of Miles Mitchell-Nelson at centre-back and Eren Kinali wide on the right-hand side, but the squad was augmented by second-year scholars Louie Arrowsmith at left-back, Jaden Crowhurst in midfield and Tayo Adedoja up front.
It was the hosts that made the more confident start, and Collin Andeng Ndi had to make a second-minute save to keep out Ben Sartain’s powerful downward header. Two minutes later Andeng Ndi dived low to his right to claim Dan Trendall’s skidding strike from 15 yards out.
There was a sign that Blues were beginning to gain confidence in the 13th minute when Unwin tried to slide Brown in down the left-hand portion of the penalty area, but he failed to execute the pass.
Two minutes later, Southend did take the lead. Youth team skipper Crowhurst and forward Adedoja were involved in the build-up on the right-hand side, and Unwin applied the finish by firing into the net from six yards out.
Within sixty seconds, the visitors could have doubled their advantage when Kinali cut inside from the right flank and curled the ball into the six-yard box. Bowers goalkeeper Lamar Johnson almost spilt the ball into the path of the waiting Adedoja, but he recovered to snaffle the loose ball.
Southend continued to press forwards, and Unwin cut the ball back to O’Shane Stewart on the edge of the penalty area in the 17th minute for a side-footed finish that was collected comfortably by Johnson.
At the opposite end Andeng Ndi made a good near-post stop from Quenton Monville to keep Blues in front in the 20th minute, and midway through the opening period Bradley Sach dragged a right-footed shot beyond the left-hand upright for the homesters.
With time running down in the first half, Stewart lashed over from 30 yards out following good build-up play by Blues, but Bowers also had opportunities and Chris Millar’s strike was charged down before Alex Bentley curled narrowly over from just outside the penalty area.
Shortly afterwards Andeng Ndi denied Millar with an unconventional stop, the ball rolling up his arm at the near post before he diverted it wide with his head. Then, in stoppage time, Millar volleyed over after Jamie Dicks’ set-piece was nodded into his path.
Blues made two changes at the break, with a trialist coming on for Arrowsmith at full-back and Callum Burkey replacing Crowhurst in the heart of midfield. The second substitution, in particular, had a positive effect on the game, according to Moss.
“We spoke at half-time about the central areas of the pitch because we thought we were a little bit open tactically on the transition to them going forwards,” he explained.
“Callum Burkey came on in the second half and he especially sat in there and plugged the middle of the pitch, and he’s great in possession as well. Louie Rodmell also came on and made a great impact tonight, so it was a brilliant experience for those boys.”
The chances dried up for Bowers, and instead Southend attempted to pick off their opponents. Brown failed to bring a Stewart pass under control in the penalty area in the 49th minute, and the attacking midfielder then saw a 20-yard free-kick deflected inches over 15 minutes later.
Rodmell came on for Kinali at the mid-point of the second half, and he played a part in the second goal in the 81st minute. The forward’s powerful run ended with a stinging shot from the ‘D’ that Johnson could only push out to Brown, and he slotted home calmly from a tight angle.
Another late replacement, Brian Garzon, galloped through the middle with a minute remaining, but a heavy touch as he tried to control Unwin’s through-ball allowed Johnson to gather and prevent further damage for the home club.
Andeng Ndi had not been called into action in the second half at all, and Moss was delighted with a second clean sheet in three matches following a 1-0 win at East Thurrock United for the U23s in their opening fixture.
“Most good teams are built around a solid defensive base and good units,” he said. “I think when you have Tommy Davis and Miles Mitchell-Nelson in there it helps because they have had experience with the first-team.
“That helps the younger boys when they come in because they can come and watch these games and learn from what Tommy and Miles are doing. The clean sheet is pleasing,” Moss concluded.
Southend United U23s: Collin Andeng Ndi, Reiss Chandler, Louie Arrowsmith (Trialist, 46), O’Shane Stewart, Tommy Davis, Miles Mitchell-Nelson, Eren Kinali (Louie Rodmell, 67), Jaden Crowhurst (Callum Burkey, 46), Tayo Adedoja, Cameron Brown (Brian Garzon, 86), Bobby Unwin.
Goals: Unwin (15), Brown (81).