Reiss Chandler’s first-half goal was enough to earn Southend United U23s a 1-0 win in their opening match of pre-season.
Full-back Chandler netted after 14 minutes following an excellent team move, with lead professional development phase coach Danny Heath delighted to see the youngster on target: “It was a great finish from Reiss," he said.
"It was a great build-up in terms of the passing and the movement and he’s finished it off. He’s the type of full-back who will get into those types of positions and get those opportunities. In terms of his understanding of how to support the ball going forwards, when and where to run, he’s second-to-none.”
Chandler was on of four professionals in terms with central defender Miles Mitchell-Nelson, and midfielders O’Shane Stewart and Jon Benton also in action. Youth team players Charlie Sayers and Tayo Adedoja augmented the remainder of the side, who comprised of the new third-year scholars.
The match was played in hot conditions - necessitating drinks breaks midway through each half - and in front of over 400 spectators at Rookery Hill as the Rocks welcomed fans back to their ground for the first time in nine months following the curtailment of their 2020/21 season.
As such, control of possession was important for both teams, and it was Blues who kept the ball impressively during the opening period. The first opportunity arrived when Mitchell-Nelson slipped the ball through to Adedoja in the ninth minute, but he could round the home custodian.
There were no such problems five minutes later for right-back Chandler, who didn’t score any goals during his time in the U18s. Despite that, he took the goal with aplomb after Tendi Quamina had sprung the offside trap to square the ball into his path, stroking confidently past the goalkeeper.
On the opposite flank, Sayers overlapped Bobby Unwin in the 21st minute before setting up Oli Coker, but the midfielder could only steer his shot from inside the penalty area into the gloves of the East Thurrock goalkeeper.
In midfield, the central triumvirate of Stewart, Benton and Coker were always available to receive a pass from the defence or from the wide players Unwin and Adedoja, and in the final minute of the first half Stewart dragged a shot wide from 25 yards out after striding through midfield.
The hosts had seen a couple of attempts blocked following a left-wing corner in the first half, and six minutes into the second period a 30-yard attempt was sent flying over the crossbar.
There was a set-back for Blues on 56 minutes when defender Jimmy Wallace hobbled off just over ten minutes after entering the fray, with Tommy Davis coming back on.
The young Shrimpers continued to create chances as the second period progressed, with Chandler firing straight at the goalkeeper from distance shortly before the hour mark, Benton seeing a shot charged down from Adedoja’s cut-back and Cameron Brown volleying over from 20 yards out.
East Thurrock went close to an equaliser on 73 minutes when a shot on the turn skimmed the top of Jamie Grossart’s crossbar, but Blues possessed a threat on the attack with sub Joe Shenouda. He was denied by an excellent covering tackle on 76 minutes before Brown was thwarted by the goalkeeper.
Brown then saw an effort tipped around the post ten minutes from the end before Grossart repeated that feat at the opposite end to turn a shot wide. The Blues shotstopper also did well to head clear on the edge of the penalty area just as the final whistle was about to sound to protect his clean sheet.
Lead youth development phase coach Mark Moss was pleased with the opening run-out of pre-season: "It was a really good performance,” he confirmed. "We got minutes in the legs of the boys, and some played a little bit longer than we’d hoped, but that’s how it is pre-season sometimes.
“It was a really good defensive display in the second half and we controlled the tempo of the game really well, so it was pleasing.
"I think keeping the ball, controlling the tempo and not getting countered on are important, so we’re happy. I think our goalkeeper has only had to make one save in the whole game.
"East Thurrock were decent, to be fair. They were physical, they tested us and they were well-organised shape-wise. They were tough to break down, and it’s important to get these tests early on in pre-season,” he added.
Southend United U23s: Jamie Grossart, Reiss Chandler, Charlie Sayers, O’Shane Stewart, Tommy Davis (Jimmy Wallace, 46 (Davis, 56)), Miles Mitchell-Nelson (Joe Shenouda, 68), Tayo Adedojan (Trialist, 85), Oli Coker, Tendi Quamina (Cameron Brown, 46), Jon Benton, Bobby Unwin. Substitute not used: Fin Purcell.
Goal: Chandler (14).
Cautioned: Brown (53, foul tackle).