Home v Leyton Orient - Saturday 13th December 2008
A stunning strike from Justin Hazell initially established a first-half advantage before a scrambled effort from captain Davis Abbey again put Blues in front after half-time. On both occasions, defensive lapses gifted Orient levellers with both teams squandering opportunities to snatch a victory at the death.
There were two changes to the starting line-up against Dagenham & Redbridge a week earlier with full-back John Owinja and midfielder Marcus Milner replacing Omar Folkes and Jamie Dennis respectively. Second-year scholars Ricky Byrne and Jack Morris are both back in training, but this clash came just too soon for a return.
Southend started brightly, and Fredrik Ljungström created the first chance eight minutes in when he squared the ball for Hazell, who pushed his shot past the left-hand upright under pressure from a defender.
There was no mistake five minutes later when the in-form wide man netted his eighth goal of the season. Ljungström was tripped on the right-hand side, and Merrick James-Lewis quickly slid the free-kick down the flank. Hazell drifted inside before slamming a fierce shot across goal and inside the far post from the corner of the penalty area.
Already a goal to the good, Blues looked to add a second, with James-Lewis drawing a smart save from the goalkeeper after Hazell had spun his marker to release the midfielder. Unfortunately, a moment of madness at the other end served to undermine the good work undertaken in the opening 20 minutes.
A cross into the Shrimpers box was skied by Ronnie Jones, attempting to make a clearance, and the central defender slipped as he attempted to marshal the ball back to custodian Nathan McDonald. That allowed an O's forward to nip between the two and pass into the bottom left-hand corner.
Shortly afterwards, Abbey lobbed a clearance over McDonald, who raced back to stop the ball bobbling into the goal. Despite the set-back, United still looked potent going forwards, and hard work by Ljungström and James-Lewis allowed Craig Calver to curl narrowly over from 20 yards. Just before half-time, Duran Reynolds' swirling left-wing cross created confusion in the Orient area, with a defender kneeing the ball inches wide.
The visitors were denied the lead on 53 minutes when Jones did well to get his body between an attacker and the goal close to the right-hand post, and as play switched rapidly to the other end, that impressive work gathered greater importance.
Hazell delivered a free-kick from close to the bye-line on the left-hand side, and Jones and Reynolds both attempted to touch the ball over the goal-line. The defenders' efforts were blocked out to Davis Abbey, who turned home from eight yards for his first goal of the campaign.
Unfortunately, the lead lasted less than ten minutes once again. Blues had been enjoying the bulk of possession since moving 2-1 ahead, but a swift right-wing move saw a fine ball delivered along the edge of the six-yard box, from where an advancing midfielder was the youngster from a group of three that planted a header into the corner of the net.
Ricky Duncan brought on Emmanuel Richardson, a first-year trialist recently released by Norwich City, in place of Ljungström, but it was Orient's front-line that were causing problems, two shots flashing over the crossbar and McDonald clutching a header high above his head.
Substitutes Kyle Asante and Harry Crawford combined, with the latter sending a weak shot goalwards, only for a defender to race back and scoop off of the goal-line. At the other end, McDonald reacted sharply to turn a fierce shot from an acute angle into the side-netting at his near post.
Southend almost stole all three points as the match moved into the final five minutes, first when Crawford drove a shot from the edge of the area towards the bottom right-hand corner, only for the Orient 'keeper to palm away to safety, and then, in stoppage time, as Calver's cross to the back-post was slashed wide by an unmarked Milner.
Blues, who remain unbeaten in the League since the start of March, have now won just once in their last five games in all competitions, although a four-week rest period - during which time the first-year scholars will represent the club in a prestigious indoor tournament in Germany over the New Year - will provide time to reflect and build for a push on the League title in 2009.
Southend United U18s: Nathan McDonald; John Owinja, Ronnie Jones, Adetayo Osifuwa, Duran Reynolds; Davis Abbey (Harry Crawford 78); Merrick James-Lewis, Marcus Milner; Justin Hazell (Kyle Asante71), Fredrik Ljungström (Emmanuel Richardson 66), Craig Calver.
Goals: Hazell (14), Abbey (54).
Booked: Abbey (59 - foul).