FORWARDS Freddie Buers and Max Fiddes were on target for Southend United's under 18 side as they completed their 2021/22 campaign with a fifth consecutive EFL Youth Alliance Merit League One victory, beating Cambridge United 3-1

The two schoolboys contributed all three goals between them - Buers bagging a brace either side of Fiddes’ sixth competitive youth team goal - as Blues secured third place in the league table behind champions Plymouth Argyle and Gillingham.

Youth team coach Danny Heath made one change to the starting line-up that had edged out AFC Bournemouth at Boots & Laces in their previous fixture with Buers replacing Brian Garzon.

Both teams treated the fixture as an U17 game with no second-year scholars involved at all.

Southend made the perfect start in the fourth minute when Buers put them in front.

Fiddes was the creator, threading a measured pass in behind the U’s defence for his team-mate to slip a finish underneath the advancing goalkeeper.

Despite taking the lead, Blues soon found themselves pinned back in their own half with a seventh minute shot dragged across the face of goal and an attacker glancing a header from a right-wing cross wide of the left-hand upright.

Fin Purcell did well to anticipate the danger in the 13th minute by racing out of his penalty area to clear, and 60 seconds later Buers was cautioned for breaking up a Cambridge attack on the halfway line.

There were a couple of openings for Southend as the match approached the mid-point of the first half, but captain Mo Amir sliced wide from 25 yards out and then stumbled as he attempted to collect a Buers pass.

Just after the half-hour mark the visitors suffered another blow when Henry Sandat, who finished his season with nine goals from t30 appearances, limped off injured, giving schoolboy Alfie Terry another opportunity to gain valuable minutes on the pitch.

With six minutes remaining in the opening period, Blues extended their advantage.

Ibrahim Kamara sent Buers away down the right-hand side and he beat his full-back before squaring to Fiddes at the far post, where he turned home from close range.

The end of the first half proved to be Souhend’s best spell of the match as Terry struck the woodwork with a skidding 25-yard effort before Buers dragged an attempt wide of the right-hand post from 15 yards out.

Amir also found Buers for a left-footed shot into the goalkeeper’s gloves during this period and, although Jacob Bland and Smai Norman needed to make stoppage-time blocks, Blues could go into the final 45 minutes of the season with a lot of confidence.

However, the young squad appeared to approach the second half with an air of complacency, exemplified by centre-backs Romeo Ebondo and Norman being caught out within seconds of the restart and Purcell having to come off his line to smother a shot.

Even a red card for a Cambridge midfielder for serious foul play in a challenge against Amir on 52 minutes failed to halt the hosts’ momentum, although Omari Williams did fire over a few minutes later as he slipped 25 yards from goal.

The 10 men drew a tumbling save from Purcell in the 65th minute and another effort from outside the penalty area was gathered by the goalkeeper eight minutes later.

In between Fiddes did smash over for Southend, but the teenage Shrimpers were struggling to retain any sort of possession at this stage.

Mitch Fallows and U15s forward Chinudu Duru were sent on in place of Ebondo and Amir - who had just been cautioned - as Heath attempted to wrestle the momentum back, but instead the U’s converted a penalty with 11 minutes remaining to halve their deficit.

Blues were fractious and Kamara was cautioned for dissent after the awarding of the penalty and Purcell followed the full-back into the referee’s notebook for delaying the restart of play after the spot-kick had been scored.

The player that had been brought down was unable to continue and, with the U’s having used all their substitutes, that meant they completed the match with nine men.

In the 83rd minute there were loud appeals for a second penalty, but the referee dismissed their claims following a tackle by Terry.

Southend thought they should have been awarded a spot-kick themselves a couple of minutes later after Fallows crossed for Bland and he rounded the goalkeeper to smash towards goal, with the shot being blocked on the line.

But the referee turned away shouts for handball by the defender.

A Cambridge attempt was sliced over in the final minute of the regulation ninety, and another shot was sent off-target early in injury time before Purcell made an outstanding save to paw away a close-range finish from a left-wing cross.

Blues scrambled the ball to safety and that led to the final goal as Kamara galloped away down the right flank and crossed for Buers, who benefitted from Duru holding off a defender to rifle into the roof of the net from six yards out.

Despite labouring in their final performance of the season, Blues could be proud of gaining the victory with such a young side when not at their best, claiming a 10th win in 13 matches during the calendar year in the process, and they can look forward to 2022/23 with real confidence.

Southend United U18s: Purcell, Kamara, Bolarinwa, Bland, Ebondo (Fallows 69), Norman (Bragg 87), Amir (Duru 74), Sandat (Terry 32), Buers, Fiddes, Williams. Unused substitute: Luke Cerullo. Goals: Buers (4, 90+3), Fiddes (39).

Cautioned: Buers (14, foul tackle), Amir (59, foul tackle), Kamara (79, dissent), Purcell (80, delaying the restart of play).