Southend United U18s kicked off their EFL Youth Alliance Merit League campaign with a convincing 3-0 victory over Stevenage at Boots & Laces.
Brian Garzon’s first competitive U18s goal in first-half stoppage time put the teenage Shrimpers in front, and Tayo Adedoja netted twice in the second period to make sure of the success as the squad kept an eighth clean sheet of the campaign.
“I thought the boys performed really well,” claimed youth team coach Danny Heath. “They were tough conditions in terms of the wind, but I thought they played them really well in both halves.”
“In the first half we used it to our advantage as we looked to play it into areas when it was on to do so with quality and we put them under a bit of pressure, and in the second half we had to play a bit more football because we were playing against the wind. We had to show our ability to get on the ball and play a bit shorter, and I felt the lads did that well.”
There was some experience in the side with centre-back Tommy Davis, who skippered the side, winger Damaray Anyadike and forward Tendi Quamina all second-year scholars, although Quamina was starting his first competitive youth team match following a serious injury.
Two schoolboys were named in the starting eleven in the form of goalkeeper Fin Purcell and full-back Ibrahim Kamara, whilst reinforcements also arrived from the U16s with Mohammed Amir, Patrick Droney, Omari Williams and Joe Shenouda all introduced during the second half.
A strong wind was gusting behind Blues in the opening period, and both teams initially struggled to get to grips with conditions. A number of lofted passes bounced out of play for the hosts, and perhaps the weather encouraged Jaden Crowhurst to shoot in the tenth minute when Harrison Clayden was better-positioned on the overlap.
At the other end, Luke Reeve - who was making his first appearance for seven weeks following an injury - was deceived by Kwadwo Bugyei-Kyei for Stevenage, but Davis was on hand to charge down the forward’s eventual strike.
The first save of the fixture arrived on 14 minutes courtesy of visiting custodian Timmy Smith. He made a comfortable stop from Quamina’s 20-yard drive after the striker had been picked out by Adedoja’s left-wing centre.
Although Southend were finding it difficult to create many clear-cut opportunities, they kept harrying and hustling the Stevenage defence, with Quamina tracking the ball right across the edge of the penalty area from one defender to another before committing a foul in the 18th minute.
The wind held the ball up in advanced positions for the away team in the opening period, and Purcell made a smart stop to keep out Finlay Johnson’s attempt on the turn midway through the opening period before bravely diving at the feet of Bugyei-Kyei after half-an-hour to break up another attack.
As the first half progressed, Southend began to find their range. On 35 minutes Clayden delivered a high cross from the right touchline that Garzon glanced past the far post, and six minutes later Crowhurst exchanged passes with midfield colleague Callum Burkey before scuffing a left-footed strike wide of the right-hand post.
Crowhurst then forced Smith to touch another effort into the side-netting from an acute angle before initiating the move that led to the opening goal shortly after the clock ticked past 45 minutes. Possession moved through Anyadike and Clayden on the right before the latter’s delivery was touched back by Adedoja for Garzon to caress the ball into the right-hand corner of the net.
Smith got fingertips to the shot, but he was powerless to keep it out, and Heath was delighted for the first-year scholar to mark his display with a goal: “Brian is an outstanding footballer. At the start of the season he was in the starting eleven against Leyton Orient, but he picked up a little injury and he was out for a month or so,” he explained.
“There’s competition when there are players in front of him like Callum Burkey, Jaden Crowhurst, Oli Coker and Cam Brown who are all scholars in that position. But we’ve had quite a lot of U17s games lately and his performances in those games have shown his ability, technically, in possession, and he’s done a massive shift for the team out of possession as well.”
“In possession he played as a 10, but out of possession he was tracking runners and picking up second balls, and Brian is very clever in terms of his technical ability because he can play off both feet or with the inside and outside of both feet with little passes round corners, so he’s very comfortable playing under pressure. I’m pleased for him because he deserves that goal,” he declared.
Playing against the wind in the second half, Blues were relieved when Jake Bunyan swept a shot over for Stevenage in the 54th minute before Crowhurst drilled a mid-range effort into the gloves of Smith a couple of moments later.
Just after the hour mark, Blues did manage to double their advantage with a reversal of roles from the key players in the first goal. This time Garzon’s right-wing corner was glanced out to Adedoja just inside the penalty area and he swivelled to turn home the tenth youth team goal of his career.
Adedoja hadn’t scored since the 3-2 defeat to Milton Keynes Dons towards the end of January, but he swiftly made up for that with a second on 74 minutes after Smith had failed to grab hold of Crowhurst’s awkwardly-bouncing free-kick. The former Great Berry Primary School pupil pounced on the loose ball and directed it in off the underside of the crossbar.
Having been played in a wide position rather than through the middle since the beginning of December, his coach was thrilled with Adedoja’s levels of performance for the team: “When he is playing out wide, his attacking play is second-to-none,” Heath said.
“He has also developed the ability to demonstrate his tactical understanding defensively and with regards to his roles and responsibilities. That helps out his full-back, and his all-round game has developed massively this season. He’s always working hard at his game, so I’m pleased with him that he’s got the two goals,” he added.
Purcell was quickly off his goal-line with eleven minutes remaining to protect his clean sheet, and his first competitive shut-out for the youth team was confirmed in injury time when Alfie Smith skied over for Stevenage. Blues next travel to Cambridge United on Saturday looking to make it two wins from two.
Southend United U18s: Fin Purcell, Harrison Clayden, Ibrahim Kamara, Callum Burkey (Mohammed Amir, 77), Luke Reeve (Patrick Droney, 77), Tommy Davis, Damaray Anyadike, Jaden Crowhurst, Tendi Quamina (Omari Williams, 70), Brian Garzon, Tayo Adedoja (Joe Shenouda, 77).
Goals: Garzon (45+1), Adedoja (62, 74).