Southend United U18s booked a spot in the Southern Section Quarter-Finals of the EFL Youth Alliance Cup with a 2-0 victory over Cambridge United at Boots & Laces on Saturday.
Second-half goals by Joe Shenouda and substitute Sam Ratcliff helped Danny Heath’s squad bounce back from a heavy defeat against the U’s in the league last month, as well as the heartbreak of an injury-time defeat to AFC Wimbledon in their previous outing.
Heath revealed that the squad had been called into training last Sunday following that 4-3 reverse to the Dons, where Blues had led 3-1, and the work on the training ground paid off during a hard-working performance at Boots & Laces.
Full-back Louie Arrowsmith and forward Tayo Adedoja were not risked ahead of Tuesday evening’s FA Youth Cup Second Round Qualifying tie against Barking at Roots Hall, with Mitch Fallows and Shenouda stepping into the side. Habib Bolarinwa replaced Ibrahim Kamara at right-back.
The visitors, who registered a 5-1 victory at the end of August in the league, made the better start to proceedings and within two minutes a right-wing corner had been nodded wide by a U’s attacker. Six minutes later Patrick Droney charged down a fierce attempt and, seconds after that, Habib Bolarinwa and Luke Reeve were involved in breaking up a left-wing attack.
In between those opportunities, Omari Williams was prevented from latching onto a Shenouda flick-on when the Cambridge goalkeeper came off his line to gather at the second attempt on the very edge of his own penalty area, but Blues spent much of the opening 20 minutes on the back foot.
Youth team coach Heath swapped wingers Williams and schoolboy Freddie Buers to try to instigate more attacking momentum for his side, and he also implored the side to up the tempo when they were in possession to halt Cambridge’s impetus.
Slowly but surely it began to work and, although Fin Purcell was forced into a near-post stop from another left-wing attack midway through the opening period, sixty seconds later skipper Jaden Crowhurst strode through midfield and sent a 25-yard shot into the visiting custodian’s gloves.
The shotstopper was exerted even more on 28 minutes when Williams hooked the ball over his shoulder for Shenouda to chase and the former Cheshunt forward forced the advancing goalkeeper to smother a shot from the edge of the penalty area.
Shortly after the half-hour mark, Blues hit the woodwork when Buers hoisted a cross over the scrambling gloveman and the ball rebounded off the crossbar before Williams drew a low save from the goalkeeper with a clean left-footed strike on 40 minutes.
However, Southend weren’t having it all their own way and Reeve made another important block before an outstanding save from Purcell on 42 minutes ensured the two teams would go in level. An attacker had looked set to convert a left-wing cut-back from twelve yards out, but the first-year scholar brilliantly diverted it wide with his right thigh.
If Cambridge had been quicker out of the blocks in the first half, it was Blues that raced out for the second period on the front foot with Brian Garzon bringing a save with the goalkeeper’s legs from a quick Williams throw in the 48th minute.
Within a minute, the Cambridge custodian had once again thwarted a Southend player with his legs as this time Crowhurst saw his right-footed attempt turned away after latching onto a Callum Burkey header.
Despite those early efforts, there was an anxious moment for the teenage Shrimpers just before the hour mark when Cambridge hit the post twice in quick succession. Confusion in the back-line led to a side-footed effort against the left-hand upright before Purcell turned the rebound against the same post.
It was another vital moment as it allowed Shenouda’s first competitive youth team goal to put Blues in front on 62 minutes. Captain Crowhurst was involved, whipping the ball to the far post for Williams, who cushioned it back to his first-year colleague to slot home from three yards out.
Six minutes later Williams almost set up Shenouda again, but this time the forward was inches away from sliding in to convert from a similar distance, whilst at the other end a left-wing free-kick was headed over from close-range.
On 84 minutes Southend made the game safe with two of the three substitutes introduced to that point involved in the goal. Henry Sandat worked hard to win the ball in midfield and release Williams, who this time teed up Ratcliff, arriving at the far post, to slide beyond the goalkeeper from seven yards out.
Purcell made a good stop at his far post in the final minute of the regulation ninety to preserve his clean sheet, but Blues ended the match the stronger and Garzon drew a fine fingertip save from the Cambridge goalkeeper deep into stoppage time that would have provided additional sheen to an already impressive scoreline.
Southend United U18s: Fin Purcell, Habib Bolarinwa, Mitch Fallows, Callum Burkey (Jacob Bland, 89), Luke Reeve, Patrick Droney, Freddie Buers (Sam Ratcliff, 60), Jaden Crowhurst (Mo Amir, 79), Joe Shenouda (Henry Sandat, 79), Brian Garzon, Omari Williams. Unused substitute: Ibrahim Kamara.
Goals: Shenouda (62), Ratcliff (84).
Cautioned: Crowhurst (26, delaying the restart of play), Ratcliff (88, foul tackle), Sandat (90+3, foul tackle).