In keeping with the agreement clubs have made for the Merit League, both sides were made up principally of first-year scholars and schoolboys, although it was Tendi Quamina - a second-year who has missed two years through injury - that stole the show with a brace of goals on his start since returning to action. 

“Tendi’s been out for two years, but his application and his professionalism to get back to where he is now has been second-to-none,” said youth team coach Danny Heath after the match. “He has always come in with a smile on his face and he’s shown a positive attitude throughout; he’s never walked around with his head down and he’s always been upright and had his chest out.” 

“He has pushed himself in whatever he has been able to do. If he’s been set ten squats, he’s been doing twelve. Even when he came back to full contact training with the group, it was like he hadn’t been away. With his natural ability in terms of his first touch, his hold-up play and his finishing, it’s as though he’s not been out for two years. I’m over the moon for him to get the two goals.” 

Heath rested full-back Louie Arrowsmith, who has started all but two of Southend’s competitive fixtures this term, whilst central defender Luke Reeve was also missing despite returning to full training after injury. Basildon United goalkeeper Collin Andeng Ndi, who has been training with the club’s custodians, was handed an opportunity in goal. 

Quamina was lively from the outset, firing over following an Omari Williams corner in the eleventh minute before holding off a defender to draw a save from the Gillingham goalkeeper sixty seconds later. After a quarter-of-an-hour, Tayo Adedoja shifted the ball out of his feet before dragging his shot wide of the left-hand upright. 

The opening goal arrived on 23 minutes from schoolboy winger Williams. A tricky wide-man, he drifted inside from the left flank before using a defender as a shield to arrow his precise 16-yard finish in off the inside of the right-hand post. 

Six minutes later, Quamina’s fairy-tale return was complete as he doubled the advantage. The forward, who has enjoyed a phased comeback with substitute appearances against Gillingham, Ipswich Town and AFC Wimbledon in the last three matches, collected Callum Burkey’s pass before clinically dispatching his strike inside the left-hand upright. 

Burkey, who skippered the side for the first 45 minutes before being withdrawn, read the play superbly and organised those around him to ensure Southend had a strong defensive base. That propelled the likes of Jacob Bland and Brian Garzon forwards, and the latter was denied by a fine save on 37 minutes. 

In a rare foray forwards, Burkey also went close, cutting slightly across a fierce 25-yard attempt on 43 minutes and sending it marginally wide before Quamina made it 3-0 six minutes later. He latched onto a cross-field pass before sending a deflected finish beyond the visitors’ substitute shotstopper from six yards out. 

Blues made a raft of changes on 45 and 60 minutes to make use of the full squad, and it was one of the replacements who created the fourth goal shortly after the hour mark when Sam Ratcliff did brilliantly to keep the ball in and his hanging cross was met by Jaden Crowhurst, who leapt highest amongst a sea of red shirts to plant his header into the bottom left-hand corner of the net. 

Ratcliff almost contributed a second assist after exchanging passes with Henry Sandat on the edge of the penalty area, but this time Kenny Coker’s volley was superbly clawed away before the first-year forward added a fifth goal with a Panenka penalty on 73 minutes having been brought down inside the area. 

That rounded out the scoring, with defenders Harrison Clayden, Ibrahim Kamara, Patrick Droney, Habib Bolarinwa and James Taylor making sure there was no threat to Andeng Ndi’s goal. During the final half-an-hour of the match, 14-year-old Tyler Williams was also given an opportunity to impress in midfield. 

“We are trying to push players on and develop them to play through the age groups,” explained U16s coach Lewis Dallas, who assisted Heath from the sidelines. “If they are good enough, then they’re old enough.” 

“Tyler works really hard, and when he came onto the pitch, you couldn’t tell he was a 14-year-old because he had that much quality and he believes in himself. The players around him helped him, and that leadership from them is important.” 

Dallas also stressed the significance of the remaining fixtures in 2020/21 as preparation for the following campaign: “The U16s played well today and they worked hard. They acquitted themselves well in the game in terms of what we asked of them. We set them challenges across the pitch, and they all did really well. They were consistent and their standards were high throughout.” 

“This season’s first-years, who will be second-years next season, get to know the standards required in terms of their leadership, and it’s important for the U16s to get a taste of what it’s going to be like to be a professional footballer during their scholarship.” 

“These matches are massive for the boys’ development. They are working with myself and then I’m passing them over and they are working with Danny and the team they’ll be with next year.” 

“They are also important in terms of the way the boys acquit themselves on and off the ball. They need to know how Danny works and get to know the boys they are going to be playing alongside in 2021/22,” he added. 

Southend United U18s: Collin Andeng Ndi, Harrison Clayden, Ibrahim Kamara, Callum Burkey (Jaden Crowhurst, 46), Patrick Droney (Habib Bolarinwa, 75), Bolarinwa (James Taylor, 60), Tayo Adedoja (Kenny Coker, 46), Jacob Bland (Tyler Williams, 60), Tendi Quamina (Sam Ratcliff, 60), Brian Garzon (Henry Sandat, 60), Omari Williams (Joe Shenouda, 46). 

Goals: Williams (23), Quamina (29, 49), Crowhurst (64), K Coker (73 pen).