Brian Garzon and Jaden Crowhurst were on target once again as Southend United U18s completed a victorious week with a 2-1 league win away to Stevenage.
In common with both of their previous successes the match was goalless at half-time before Garzon opened the scoring just after the break, but Max Bustamante converted a contentious penalty to level matters shortly after the hour mark.
However, Crowhurst - who like Garzon had scored against Barking in The FA Youth Cup in midweek - netted a late winner to claim all three points for the teenage Shrimpers and hoist Danny Heath’s squad into the top half of the EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference table.
Heath was pleased with the squad’s display: “It was a very good performance,” he said. “In the first half we played very well, and their goalkeeper made three or four blinding saves. There were other chances where we should’ve hit the target, and if we’d’ve scored four or fives goals, they could’ve had no complaints.”
“In the second half they put more pressure on us with some direct play, but we scored two quality goals. The boys identified that if we played the ball in the air, they would have an advantage, so we put in two very good central balls to set up the goals,” he added.
Youth team coach Heath made two changes to the team that had defeated Barking 2-0 four days previous as midfielder Jacob Bland and forward Henry Sandat were handed their first competitive youth team starts for the club in place of Sam Ratcliff and Omari Williams.
Garzon was first to score, lifting the ball over the goalkeeper into the top corner to contribute his fifth goal of the campaign and build on his hat-trick over the same opponents in the EFL Youth Alliance Cup earlier in the season.
However, Blues suffered a setback in the 63rd minute when they conceded their first goal in almost 250 minutes of football, from the penalty spot, after Habib Bolarinwa was adjudged to have brought down a Stevenage attacker. Bustamante sent Fin Purcell the wrong way from twelve yards out.
Not to be deterred, Southend secured the win with a little over five minutes remaining through Crowhurst. He bagged his third goal of the season after picking up possession in the centre of the pitch and pushing the ball beyond the Stevenage defence with a great first touch before caressing his shot past the goalkeeper.
Heath believed that goal showed what the team had learnt from their first half profligacy: “Jaden passed his shot into the corner, and in the first half we were missing those opportunities. We weren’t composed enough in front of goal before the break, and instead of focussing on passing into the goal, we were trying to smash the ball in.
“We showed good character overall. At 1-0 up we were dominating, but then we had the penalty given against us and it was a test of our character. We responded really well, we didn’t let it affect our mentality and the focus of the boys was tremendous,” he reflected.
After a Youth Alliance Cup triumph at home to Cambridge United and success in The FA Youth Cup Second Round Qualifying tie at Roots Hall, this put the seal on a fine week for Heath’s side, who now turn their focus to a league cup quarter-final at Northampton Town on Saturday.
“It’s been a great week,” the boss proclaimed. “The boys’ target is always to win games. As staff, we are looking at the performances as well, and in all three games we have performed and played good football.
“It’s about the boys showcasing their potential to be professional footballers and that they have got the potential to push onto the next level.”
“We’ve got a big week ahead of us. There’s the Premier League Cup for the U23s on Friday night and then a League Cup Quarter-Final at Northampton on Saturday for the U18s before we can even start thinking about Aveley in The FA Youth Cup.
“The boys just need to focus on the next game. We’re starting to pick up some momentum and consistency. We’ve won three games in a row, but the challenge now is to make it four. There are lots of games coming up and it’s an exciting time.”
Southend United U18s: Fin Purcell, Habib Bolarinwa, Louie Arrowsmith, Jacob Bland (Omari Williams, 65), Luke Reeve, Patrick Droney, Jaden Crowhurst, Callum Burkey, Tayo Adedoja, Henry Sandat, Brian Garzon (Mo Amir, 65). Unused substitutes: Freddie Buers, Joe Shenouda.
Goals: Garzon (48), Crowhurst (84).