Southend United U18s kicked off 2022 in winning fashion with a narrow 1-0 victory over Milton Keynes Dons at Boots & Laces on Saturday.
Schoolboy substitute Max Fiddes netted the only goal of the game thirteen minutes from time as Danny Heath’s side held onto fourth position in the EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference table with their first win in three matches.
Heath was able to call upon second-year central defender Luke Reeve again after a spell out with an injury sustained in the Premier League Cup tie against Fulham U23s last month, but Louie Arrowsmith was missing at left-back, with first-year scholar Mitch Fallows stepping up in his place.
Blues started the match well at the club’s training ground on Eastern Avenue, and Brian Garzon benefited from a high press to skew wide from the edge of the penalty area in the seventh minute.
Garzon was involved again three minutes later when Henry Sandat slipped the ball into his path down the left-hand side of the penalty area and a teasing centre was pushed out by MK goalkeeper Bogdan Marian and just out of the reach of the approaching Tayo Adedoja and Jacob Bland.
Sandat was becoming increasingly involved, and the playmaker was unfortunate when he did well to rob Obi Ounddeoa in the penalty area, but he couldn’t get the ball out of his feet and a pass intended for the waiting Adedoja was cut out.
Despite being in the ascendancy, Southend were finding it difficult to test Marian and a Mo Amir strike from Jaden Crowhurst’s 16th minute corner hit Reeve and flew out for a goal-kick before Callum Burkey failed to make a clean connection with Amir’s cross five minutes later.
A lack of conviction from centre-back Patrick Droney in front of goal led to his point-blank strike being blocked by Marian before Reeve failed to make the required contact to turn a Crowhurst set-piece goalwards and Garzon aimed an air-kick from the ‘D’.
The rain began to intensify as the match continued and, as it did so, the visitors began to grow into the game. Fallows did well to deflect Billy Osbourn’s strike out for a corner in the 18th minute and Fin Purcell was tested for the first time on 36 minutes by Tommy Blennerlaslit’s ten-yard attempt.
Nonetheless, Blues had opportunities to take the lead as the first period drew towards its conclusion, with Reeve’s close-range finish from a Fallows corner lacking conviction in the 40th minute before Adedoja drew a save from Marian with side-footed effort shortly afterwards.
Blues had a goal ruled out when Reeve bundled into Marian as he met Crowhurst’s hanging delivery in the 42nd minute, and the half ended with Marian making a fine save to tip a 15-yard shot from Fallows away from the top right-hand corner and Crowhurst later nodding into the side-netting.
If Southend had enjoyed the better of the first half, a sign that they would not have it all their own way arrived just four minutes into the second period when Droney’s pass was intercepted by Osbourn and he thumped a shot against the crossbar.
Sandat saw a sweet strike saved by Marian just before the hour and Crowhurst curled a free-kick narrowly over on 61 minutes before Reeve slid onto a delivery from the Shrimpers captain, only for the ball to fly across the face of goal.
Blennerlaslit saw a free-kick deflected wide at the other end on 72 minutes before, four minutes later, he advanced one-on-one with Purcell, who came off his line quickly to apprehend the forward.
The contribution from the custodian would prove crucial as, sixty seconds later, Fiddes – who had only been introduced as a replacement for Bland seven minutes earlier for his second youth team appearance – controlled a precise pass from Sandat and arrowed his shot into the bottom right-hand corner.
It was a composed finish, coming off the back of three goals earlier in the morning for the U16s, and proved to be a vital moment of quality. Blues managed to see out the final thirteen minutes without alarm to register a first home win since 23rd October, and will return to Boots & Laces this Saturday against Luton Town (kick-off 11:00am) seeking to seal a top-half finish.
Southend United U18s: Fin Purcell, Jaden Crowhurst, Mitch Fallows, Callum Burkey, Luke Reeve, Patrick Droney, Mo Amir, Brian Garzon, Tayo Adedoja, Jacob Bland (Max Fiddes, 70), Henry Sandat. Unused substitutes: Charlie Brown, Harrison Clayden, Joe Shenouda, Freddie Buers.