Away v Aldershot Town - Saturday 25th October 2008
Aldershot have now picked up a solitary point from their opening five League fixtures, although the hosts put up a spirited resistance that belied their lowly status. Just five minutes after half-time, Blues had almost let their initial three-goal lead slip, and it was only a quickfire double from Craig Calver either side of the hour mark that confirmed United's victory.
Ricky Duncan was unable to call upon Ricky Byrne, whose hamstring injury is not as bad as first feared, and Jack Morris (broken toe), whilst Callum Whittaker made way for Ade Osifuwa at centre-half. John Owinja and Duran Reynolds filled the full-back roles with Medi Abalimba replacing Merrick James-Lewis to earn his first start in a month. Harry Crawford dropped back to allow Justin Hazell to play as an out-and-out striker alongside Calver.
Less than two minutes had passed when Hazell scored what is starting to become a trademark early goal to put the Shrimpers in front. Calver darted down the left flank before laying the ball off to Reynolds and the first-year scholar swung the ball into the heart of the penalty area, where Hazell chested down and curled his fifth goal of the season into the corner of the net.
Despite Southend's bright start, the Shots' front men were dangerous, and Ronnie Jones twice made important interceptions in the penalty area. In between, a drilled shot from 20 yards was well held by Nathan McDonald.
Against the run of play, the visitors extended their lead on 11 minutes. Abalimba threaded the ball into the path of Calver and, although a defender managed to steal the ball from his toes, Crawford was well-placed to smash the loose ball into the net from the edge of the area to open his goalscoring account for the campaign.
Four minutes later, Blues had made it 3-0 with Calver again instrumental on the left flank, inducing a foul from the Town right-back. Hazell delivered a fine free-kick to the back post, where Jones connected with a well-directed header into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
There was barely time for Southend to celebrate their three-goal advantage before the hosts were level thanks to some smart thinking and a slice of fortune. A quick free-kick led to Osifuwa deflecting a strong shot that McDonald could only parry into the path of an onrushing forward, who gratefully tapped into the unguarded net.
Calver, with two wayward strikes, and Hazell, who flicked an aerial effort over the bar after Owinja's persistent run, were off-target as United carved out further chances before half-time and Crawford was unfortunate when his header over the advancing goalkeeper drifted just past the post.
If the Shrimpers' stronghold on opportunities suggests that they had the half their own way, then this would be incorrect. Aldershot stuck to their task, and deserved their second after bravely switching to a 4-3-3 formation at the break. A substitute burst down the left and hung up a beautiful cross to the back-post, where the ball was planted into the corner of the goal.
Just seconds earlier, a fierce drive had shaved the left-hand upright, and Blues were in desperate need of inspiration despite Reynolds seeing a free-kick palmed onto the top of the crossbar. It eventually came from Calver, who played a part in all three goals inside a six-minute spell, after Owinja had inadvertently stuck the bar with a cross that swerved wickedly in the strong wind.
First the Saffron Walden-born teenager sent a low centre from the left along the six-yard box, and whilst Hazell failed to connect at the near post, substitute Marcus Milner calmly side-footed into the roof of the net to record his first goal for the club.
On 59 minutes, a sweeping move from the back saw Abalimba chip forwards to Hazell. He quickly offloaded to Milner, whose acceleration took him clear of the defence, and the youngster returned the compliment by squaring to Calver, who tapped home easily.
The final strike came from the penalty spot after an Aldershot defender had been dismissed for stamping on Jamie Dennis inside the six-yard box. The incident was needless, the same backliner having just effected a fine challenge to stop the midfielder from converting Reynolds' set-piece. Calver slotted into the bottom right-hand corner, sending the goalkeeper the wrong way.
The final half-an-hour saw Aldershot hold firm, with 15-year-old Julian Okai introduced with 20 minutes remaining to experience his first taste of Under-18s football since his debut in April 2007. Duncan will now be hoping that his side continue their free-scoring form as they travel to Leyton Orient on Saturday.
Southend United U18s: Nathan McDonald; John Owinja (Merrick James-Lewis 70), Ronnie Jones, Ade Osifuwa, Duran Reynolds; Davis Abbey; Medi Abalimba, Jamie Dennis; Harry Crawford (Marcus Milner 46); Justin Hazell (Julian Okai 71), Craig Calver.
Goals: Hazell (2), Crawford (12), Jones (16), Milner (56), Calver (59, 62 pen).
Booked: Calver (64 - dissent).