SOUTHEND United’s under 18 side were crowned EFL Youth Alliance Merit League One champions after a 4-1 win at Portsmouth.

The victory, coupled with Swindon Town’s 3-0 defeat at Oxford United, saw the Shrimpers finish three points clear at the top of the table.

And Blues coach Dave Huzzey was delighted to see his youngsters wrap up the title.

“It’s a brilliant way to sign off,” said Huzzey.

“This group have deserved something and it was important to me that they got a reward for all the hard work they have put in.

“All the chats I’ve had with them, and all the times I’ve told them exactly what I think and what they’ve got to do better and how they can improve their standards, hopefully they understand why.

“It’s because I want to make champions and I want to make winners.”

And Huzzey hopes those discussions have played a part in the Shrimpers’ success which came just hours before the first team made sure of their League One status with a 2-1 victory against Sunderland.

“We speak a lot in the Academy about developing winners,” said Huzzey.

“You only develop winners by winning and by showing the players how much you enjoy winning and dislike losing.

“We’ve put that into this group of players in training every day, and that’s not just myself but everyone who works with them.

“We want to ensure they’ve got that winning mentality and this goes hand-in-hand with the process and with the progression of the players because we want to develop winners.

“I think when you look at the pitch in this game there were more winners out there than wasn’t, and most of them were in our team.”

The Shrimpers opened the scoring after just six minutes when Matt Rush teed up Freddy Eastwood to fire home a well-taken finish.

With play soon switching back to the other end of the field, Harry Seaden made two fine saves to keep Portsmouth at bay before Blues doubled their lead in the 29th minute when Charlie Kelman raced onto a pass from O’Shane Stewart to score his 19th goal in 23 youth team appearances this term.

However, the hosts replied in the 38th minute with Josh Flint heading home Leon Maloney’s left wing cross.

But just before the break Blues restored their two goal cushion when Kelman and Eastwood combined to tee up Matt Rush to score his 23rd goal of the season. Southend went further ahead in the 67th minute with Eastwood firing home his 17th goal of the season to earn more praise from Huzzey.

“The boy is one of the best finishers I’ve seen at this level and the calmness he has got is excellent,” said Huzzey.

“Whether it’s that he doesn’t feel pressure or doesn’t care, I don’t know, but whatever it is, it works. It’s been a great day but a lot of people have worked really hard for it to happen.”

Blues’ U18s: Seaden, Chandler, Biler (Osimeh 89), Brogan (Mpenga 90), Mitchell-Nelson, Taylor, Egbri, Stewart, Kelman, Rush, Eastwood (Unwin 88).