Home v Gillingham - Saturday 8th November 2008
Forward Asante celebrated his full debut for the Under-18s with two goals inside three minutes as Blues raced into a 2-0 lead, only for Joshua Sargeant to quickly reduce the arrears for the visitors. A resolute performance in the second half ensured that Ricky Duncan's youngsters retained their position at the top of the Youth Alliance League.
Duncan was forced to make two changes to the starting line-up with midfielders Stuart O'Keefe and Justin Hazell named amongst the substitutes for the first team in their F.A. Cup tie at A.F.C. Telford United.
Jamie Dennis and Asante, who were major influences in hauling the Shrimpers back into the Brentford fixture in midweek, came in to replace them with Duran Reynolds recalled at the back in place of John Owinja. Ade Osifuwa moved out to right-back with Reynolds partnering Ronnie Jones at centre-half.
Although Southend enjoyed the majority of possession in the opening stages, it was Gillingham who threatened to score first. Luke Rooney brought a comfortable save from Nathan McDonald with a fierce shot from 25 yards, whilst Ronney's right-wing cross then saw a Gills defender nod wide of the post when left unmarked.
Asante's first goal for the Under-18s came against the run of play in the 17th minute. Craig Calver was brought down on the left-hand side after a burst of pace took him away from a defender. Dennis' right-footed set-piece was swung into the six-yard box, where Asante got a faint touch to deflect the ball into the net. The youngster celebrated with a series of spectacular somersaults.
He was soon marking his second effort with a rather more reserved response. The move was again crafted on the left flank, Calver holding the ball up before clipping into the path of Merrick James-Lewis. The tall midfielder shielded the ball from three defenders before completing a return pass, from which Calver centred to the near post. Asante made the perfect run to plant a header into the bottom left-hand corner.
There was a warning that the visitors did not believe that they were out of the fixture when Rooney collected Sargeant's cross, only to be denied by an excellent sliding tackle from Reynolds. The follow-up effort was beaten away by McDonald.
However, with the match still only 24 minutes old, Sargeant made no mistake when he loitered just inside the penalty area to receive Jones' partial headed clearance of a corner. The winger smashed a half-volleyed effort low inside the right-hand post.
James-Lewis raced across to cover the path of Rooney's acrobatic scissor kick as Gillingham sensed an equaliser before Callum Day scooped a close-range shot over the crossbar.
As the first half drew towards a close Blues returned to the ascendancy, Calver drawing a smart stop from the goalkeeper at his near post from Dennis' lofted cross-field pass and the custodian making a good save from James-Lewis' strong long-range effort.
Seconds later, Asante lobbed the 'keeper from Calver's exquisite chip, racing through to stab goalwards, only for the Gills' captain to slide and steer the ball off of the line.
Three minutes after half-time, Davis Abbey's long pass set Calver free of the defence. The former Ipswich Town scholar set himself to side-foot into the goal, but he directed his shot just too close to the goalkeeper, who was able to make a save.
Calver then found James-Lewis on the left, the first-year sending a low cross into the six-yard box that the onrushing Asante tried to tap in, only for a defender to track his run and block.
Thereafter Gillingham were foiled on three occasions by McDonald inside the final 32 minutes, during which time Duncan took the opportunity to bring Under-16 talents Michael McGew and James Stevens into the team.
The first chance arrived when the Southend shotstopper failed to punch out convincingly, Day flicking the ball over the 'keeper's head. McDonald recovered to claw the ball off of the goalline whilst fending off the attentions of another forward.
With a quarter-of-an-hour remaining, his reactions were tested to the full as a substitute's right-wing cross was met by a powerful header eight yards out, McDonald extending himself to tip the ball over. Finally, he flung himself to his left to palm a shot over the bar from the same substitute, having been initially unsighted.
The result means that Southend stay top of the South-East Conference ahead of the chasing pack leading into a trip to Millwall next Saturday. Their next outing at Boots & Laces comes on 22nd November, when they welcome back Gillingham for the second round of the Youth Alliance Cup.
Southend United U18s: Nathan McDonald; Adetayo Osifuwa, Ronnie Jones, Duran Reynolds, Jack Morris; Davis Abbey; Jamie Dennis, Merrick James-Lewis (James Stevens 86); Kyle Asante (Marcus Milner 76); Harry Crawford (Michael McGew 66), Craig Calver. Sub not used: Callum Whittaker.
Goals: Asante (17, 20).