Southend United U18s continued their impressive start to the EFL Youth Alliance Merit League Two season with a 4-2 win away to Cambridge United on Saturday.
Danny Heath’s side built on a 3-0 victory against Stevenage in their opening match to consolidate their position at the top of the fledgling league table thanks to goals from Kenny Coker and Tendi Quamina in the opening period, and substitute Mohammed Amir and Coker again after the interval.
Coker’s goals took his tally during his youth team career to eleven in eighteen starts, and Heath was delighted with his continued contribution to the side: “Kenny has been working hard on his finishing,” he confirmed.
“He has been concentrating on striking the ball cleanly and keeping his head over the ball, so I’m pleased for him that he’s got two goals. Kenny is someone that feels he hasn’t played well if he doesn’t get on the scoresheet, but he often contributes in other ways.”
“His work-rate is getting better and better, and the way he has been closing down has restricted the time and space opposition teams have had to play the ball out from the back. He has also been working on his heading, either winning flick-ons or bringing others into the game, so his all-round play has been outstanding and the two goals are just the icing on the cake,” he added.
The forward was one of two changes to the starting line-up as he partnered Quamina up front. Second-year scholars Damaray Anyadike and Tommy Davis were not included, with schoolboy James Taylor handed his first start. Unfortunately, he had to be taken off after just three minutes and replaced by Patrick Droney.
Blues took the lead in the 24th minute through Coker and a moment of real quality. The first-year front-man received the ball around 25 yards from goal and bent the ball beautifully past the Cambridge goalkeeper and into the top corner of the net.
Quamina, who completed another hour in his rehabilitation from a two-year absence through injury, added a second goal shortly afterwards following good work from Jaden Crowhurst on the regain in midfield. He fed the forward with a fine pass down the side of the defender, and Quamina caressed the ball into the far corner.
The hosts pulled a goal back on the stroke of half-time, and Southend were indebted to schoolboy shotstopper Fin Purcell for keeping the team in front in the early stages of the second period as he pulled off a string of superb saves.
“We still looked dangerous when we attacked, but we needed Fin to make some brilliant saves to keep us ahead,” Heath declared. “We knew they’d start fast, but we managed to ride out the storm and give ourselves a two-goal cushion again.”
The third goal represented the first competitive goal of Amir’s youth team career. The teenage talent had netted twice in a friendly against Watford recently, as well as the winner away to Category Two Academy Ipswich Town, but his opening EFL Youth Alliance finish came when he passed Tayo Adedoja’s lay-off into the far corner from twelve yards out.
“Mo is a player that can create chances,” Heath revealed. “He is good at passing, but he can also get himself chances to shoot from anywhere with his dribbling or movement. He has an ability to score from close- or long-range, but I was also really impressed that, even as a schoolboy, he was vocal with his communication and he demanded a better standard from his team-mates.”
Cambridge again halved the deficit with a quarter-of-an-hour remaining, but sixty seconds later Coker’s second goal of the game proved decisive. He chased a ball over the top and appeared to be second favourite to a defender but, after winning the battle, he emerged to lift his finish over the advancing goalkeeper and in off the underside of the crossbar.
“It was massive for us to score when we did,” said Heath. “At 2-1 and 3-2 they were key moments and you have to believe in your ability and play with composure. The focus has to be on looking forwards and what you need to do to stay ahead. Our confidence and composure allowed us to regain a two-goal lead.”
Blues have a fortnight without a competitive fixture before Milton Keynes Dons arrive at Boots & Laces, but Heath wants the squad to maintain their momentum in the remaining Merit League matches this season.
“We have been playing two or three games a week over the past month, but as young footballers that’s exactly what you want to be doing,” he said. “The lads are showing they are robust and, over that month they have been putting in good performances.”
“It’s part of their education that they need to learn to play two or three games a week because that is representative of being in the first-team environment. The confidence is high, but you are only as good as your last game and we have another friendly against Ipswich Town on Tuesday and we have to show what we can do again.”
“Our target is six wins from six games in the league. We are pleased with the performances we have been putting in, but the challenge for the squad is to keep on winning and performing to the level we know they can.”
“They have a lot of confidence, but the lads need to do it on a consistent basis. There will be times when you can’t perform as well as you can, either as a group or as an individual, but commitment and working hard should be a given and, if they can do that, the levels will stay the same.”
Southend United U18s: Fin Purcell, Harrison Clayden, Ibrahim Kamara, Callum Burkey, Luke Reeve, James Taylor (Patrick Droney, 3 (Habib Bolarinwa, 55)), Brian Garzon (Omari Williams, 75), Jaden Crowhurst, Tendi Quamina (Mohammed Amir, 60), Kenny Coker, Tayo Adedoja (Jacob Bland, 75).
Goals: Kenny Coker (2), Tendi Quamina, Mohammed Amir.