SOUTHEND United's under 18 side returned to competitive action with a 2-0 victory over Leyton Orient as they kicked off the EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference season in style, writes Rob Craven.

A team featuring six of the club’s new first-year scholars in the starting line-up earned their triumph thanks to direct free-kicks from Oli Coker and Cameron Brown either side of the half-time interval. Kenny Coker could have added a third late on, but his penalty was repelled by Orient goalkeeper Sean Campbell.

However, coach Danny Heath was delighted with the win and a clean sheet.

“We told the boys that when you deny a goal being scored, that should feel as good as a goal being scored and it meant a lot to them to keep a clean sheet,” said Heath.

“I’m over the moon for the boys.

"In terms of the league campaign it’s pleasing because they’ve got the three points and they produced the performance to go with it as well.” 

Blues were out of the blocks quickest with Louie Arrowsmith slicing narrowly wide from the edge of the penalty area in the third minute, but they began to come under pressure and Jimmy Wallace had to step across a forward to break up one attack before Arrowsmith cleared a cross that goalkeeper Jamie Grossart had failed to grab.

In reply, Adetayo Adedoja held off a defender to create a one-on-one opportunity with Campbell as play switched immediately to the other end, but his angled finish was superbly held at full-stretch by the custodian.

An entertaining start to the game continued with Adedoja’s appeals for a penalty waved away in the 13th minute before Orient spurned a good chance to take the lead when a right-wing corner was volleyed over at the far post.

But Blues broke the deadlock in the 28th minute when Oli Coker drew a foul from an opponent.

Adedoja was involved again in the build-up, snatching the ball from a defender to earn possession before the midfielder was brought down, and the second-year scholar then benefitted from a fortunate bounce as his 25-yard set-piece deceived the diving Campbell.

Blues had to remain alert to maintain their lead, with Grossart brilliantly turning a fine strike away from goal on the half-hour mark before leaping up to cover a close-range header that was directed narrowly over the crossbar.

When Grossart was finally beaten in the 35th minute, he turned round to see a shot bounce back off the right-hand post, and that seemed to spark Southend back into life with Oli Coker forcing Campbell to palm his fierce attempt from a narrow angle around the left-hand upright before a side-footed effort from namesake Kenny’s cut-back was easily gathered by Campbell.

Blues took a narrow lead into the interval, and they were indebted to Harrison Clayden for protecting their goal eight minutes after half-time when he executed two superb tackles deep in his own half to break up an Orient attack.

The advantage was subsequently doubled on the hour mark when Brian Garzon was shoved on the edge of the penalty area.

The position may have been considered ideal for Oli Coker again, but this time he feigned to shoot and instead Brown curled majestically into the top left-hand corner of the net.

The visitors should have added to their advantage in the 73rd minute when Kenny Coker’s persistent run down the inside-left channel ended with him being bundled over in the penalty area.

The forward – who featured twice for the first-team last season – stepped up himself to take the spot-kick, but Campbell guessed correctly to push the ball to safety.

Forward Coker immediately attempted to atone for the saved penalty by chasing down a long ball, but an O’s defender raced back to deflect his shot away and, in the 80th minute, substitute Demaray Anyadike had an opportunity to net, only to scuff his half-volley wide from Wallace’s raking cross-field pass.

Kenny Coker slid another shot narrowly wide from Callum Burkey’s through-ball five minutes later and Adedoja was also unable to finish from Clayden’s long pass, but the major celebrations were reserved for stoppage time, when an Orient attacker failed to convert with just Grossart to beat to preserve a clean sheet.

Southend United U18s: Grossart, Clayden, Arrowsmith, Crowhurst (Burkey 84), Davis, Wallace, Brown, Garzon (Anyadike 75), K Coker, O Coker, Adedoja.

Substitutes not used: Reeve & Shala.