Second-half goals by Jaden Crowhurst and Brian Garzon booked Southend United U18s a spot in Third Round Qualifying of The FA Youth Cup with a 2-0 win over Barking.
Crowhurst netted just moments after seeing a penalty kick saved by Barking goalkeeper Callum McEvoy before Garzon arrowed home a second midway through the second period for the teenage Shrimpers, who will learn their next opponents in the competition later this week.
For many of the Blues squad it was the first time they had stepped foot on the Roots Hall turf following an away draw in The FA Youth Cup against Ipswich Town last season, and youth team coach Danny Heath had encouraged them to enjoy the occasion prior to the fixture.
Heath was able to bring full-back Louie Arrowsmith and forward Tayo Adedoja back into the starting line-up after they sat out Saturday’s victory over Cambridge United in the EFL Youth Alliance Cup, and Sam Ratcliff was handed a starting berth after netting the second goal against the U’s. Mitch Fallows, Joe Shenouda and Freddie Buers were unfortunate to miss out.
Barking had convincingly defeated Cheshunt, 5-1, in the previous round in a match watched by Heath, Academy coach Mark Moss and recruitment officer Michael March, but they were quickly given a warning that they would face a sterner test against Blues.
In just the second minute of the match Crowhurst curled a right-wing free-kick into the heart of the penalty area and a stooping Callum Burkey was unlucky to see his header bounce off the top of the crossbar.
In the 13th minute it was Barking defender Jack Turner that prevented Ratcliff from notching his fourth goal of the season after Adedoja had pressurised McEvoy into gifting the winger possession. Ratcliff curled goalwards from 20 yards out but saw Turner block on the goal-line.
Southend seemed to be in the ascendancy at this point, but they were struggling to thread any intricate moves together and the closest they came to a further opportunity in the opening 20 minutes was when centre-back Luke Reeve failed to control colleague Patrick Droney’s flick-on.
Instead, the visitors gradually grew into the game and Mekhi Stanford-Clarke was thwarted by Droney in a defensive role midway through the opening period before smashing over from an acute angle as the ball was recycled into the penalty area.
Despite enjoying more possession, Barking were unable to test Fin Purcell in the Southend goal, and on 29 minutes the custodian watched intently as Stanford-Clarke fizzed an effort across the six-yard box following good build-up play by Callum Sarfas.
Play then switched to the opposite end, where Adedoja’s powerful run culminated in a good block by Barking defender Mohamadrabiu Raji on 32 minutes and Crowhurst saw a first-time effort from 25 yards turned over by McEvoy a couple of minutes later.
From the ensuing corner, McEvoy performed more heroics to parry out a fierce Adedoja strike at the near post before Omari Williams drew a good low stop from the visiting gloveman. The first half ended all-square after Garzon failed to convert Adedoja’s cut-back on 40 minutes thanks to the outstretched right leg of McEvoy.
If the Barking goalkeeper had been a thorn in Southend’s side in the first half, then he was to reprise his role four minutes after the interval once Williams had been brought down in the penalty area. Crowhurst struck his penalty well, but McEvoy guessed correctly and pushed the spot-kick to safety.
However, the second-year scholar, skippering the side, was to have the last laugh as he put Blues in front just two minutes later. Crowhurst collected the ball and turned his man inside the penalty area before arrowing a fine finish into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
In Barking’s win over Cheshunt, Blues had identified Peter Angelov as the key to much of the side’s attacking threat, but he was largely nullified on this occasion, although on the hour mark he did fire across the face of goal from Andre Anderson’s through-ball.
Five minutes later, as the rain began to fall more steadily in south-east Essex, Blues were two goals to the good through Garzon’s precise finish. The playmaker received the ball on the edge of the area after good work by Williams on the left flank and he shifted the ball out of his feet before guiding his shot beyond McEvoy.
Stanford-Clarke smashed narrowly over for the away side as they sought to respond, but Blues were largely in control of proceedings as the clock ticked down. Shenouda, Mo Amir and Henry Sandat came on as late substitutes, with the first two prevented from tapping home the rebound when McEvoy grabbed Williams’ skidding shot at the second attempt.
Blues were unable to add any further goals in the closing stages, and indeed Barking were unfortunate not to claim a consolation when Sarfas nodded onto the roof of the net with three minutes remaining, but they ultimately progressed to Third Round Qualifying with the minimum of fuss.
Southend United U18s: Fin Purcell, Habib Bolarinwa, Louie Arrowsmith, Callum Burkey, Luke Reeve, Patrick Droney, Sam Ratcliff (Mo Amir, 76), Jaden Crowhurst, Tayo Adedoja (Joe Shenouda, 76), Brian Garzon (Henry Sandat, 88), Omari Williams. Unused substitutes: Luke Cerullo, Ibrahim Kamara, Jacob Bland, Mitchell Fallows, Freddie Buers.
Goals: Crowhurst (51), Garzon (65).