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Blues youngsters beat Gillingham in fine fashion


Good victory – Southend United’s under 18 side beat Gillingham at Boots & Laces Pictures: ROB CRAVEN

SOUTHEND United’s under 18 side returned to winning ways on Saturday with a 4-1 triumph over Gillingham at Boots & Laces.

The Blues had suffered their first league defeat in eight outings in their previous fixture, against AFC Wimbledon a fortnight earlier.

But they bounced back in style thanks to early goals by Mo Amir and Omari Williams and second-half finishes from Henry Sandat and Jaden Crowhurst.

Crowhurst and Sandat had been senior squad members earlier in the campaign, and Danny Heath’s side was further bolstered by the appearance of third-year scholars Luke Reeve and Louie Arrowsmith for the second time this term.

The day began with a solemn minute’s silence in memory of the passing of Her Majesty Queen ElIzabeth II, but as soon as the game got going it was the teenage Shrimpers who burst out of the blocks to take the lead.

Crowhurst – who was handed two first-team starts at the beginning of the campaign – was the creator as he sent a fourth minute delivery to the far post where midfielder Amir was on hand to drift in unmarked and convert his third goal of the season.

Within four minutes winger Williams had joined him on that mark – also in his fourth appearance of the term – at the end of a brilliant solo run down the right-hand side.

He eventually cut inside from the flank and sent a left-footed shot beyond Taite Holtom in the Gillingham goal and into the corner of the net.

Gillingham attempted to respond from their double set-back and Kai Garrett burst through in the 16th minute, only to be apprehended by Habib Bolarinwa snuffing out the danger.

A couple of moments later Garrett headed a set-piece into the gloves of Fin Purcell in the Blues goal.

Despite those opportunities, Southend maintained their dominance of the fixture and Amir almost caught Holtom off his goal-line in the 24th minute but sent his long-range lob inches wide.

A quarter-of-an-hour later Sandat’s superb run presented Ibrahim Kamara with a chance to shoot, but he elected to pass to Crowhurst and the moment passed.

Sandat then drew a save from Holtom after Williams had gone down in the penalty area, but Blues did have to withstand some pressure late in the opening period and Purcell punched an inswinging corner away before Reeve made an important clearance under pressure following a free-kick .

If those late skirmishes suggested the visitors were about to get back into the game, Blues extinguished those hopes within 13 minutes of the second half kicking off.

On 51 minutes, Sandat made it 3-0 from the penalty spot, coolly chipping home after being bundled over by Dami Taino-Pratt.

Seven minutes later – after a Crowhurst cross had almost dropped in and Holtom was required to claw the ball away at full-stretch – the 18-year-old had contributed the fourth goal as an unstoppable free-kick was guided around the defensive wall and into the corner of the net.

At that stage, Blues had designs on a first clean sheet of 2022/23, but those aspirations were thwarted shortly after the hour mark when Gillingham pulled a goal back through Harry Bridle, who slotted home from Garrett’s knock-down.

Harry Webster also thrashed a shot wide with six minutes remaining in the middle of a raft of changes for Blues as Smai Norman, Romeo Ebondo, Alfie Bangs and Alfie Terry were all introduced into the action, while Garrett forced a fingertip save from Purcell in the closing stages.

Aptly the final opportunity fell to Amir in the fourth minutes of stoppage time, but Holtom made a full-stretch save to push his header around the post for a corner and Blues were forced to settle for a 4-1 triumph ahead of Saturday’s home match against Stevenage.

Southend United U18s: Purcell, Bolarinwa (Norman 77), Droney (Ebondo 85), Bland (Terry 85), Reeve, Amir, Crowhurst, Kamara (Bangs 81), Williams, Sandat, Arrowsmith.

Sub not used: Cerullo.

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