Not one to stir the blood, but on a wet and rather low-key afternoon we did what was necessary. Southend will probably feel aggrieved to have come away empty-handed, having often dominated possession. And some around me were talking of us having ‘got out of jail’. I didn’t see it that way. Southend had the physical advantage over us all over the pitch and only in patches did we pass the ball well enough to threaten to put them away. But we were in front for most of the match and were reasonably comfortable through the second half in particular, with their main threat coming from set pieces. These were dealt with admirably for the most part by the defence and if the win wasn’t comfortable and we really didn’t fire on all cylinders it was just about deserved.
The line-up saw Richardson return at right-back – a decision which may have backfired as he was unable to continue in the second half, Omozusi coming on at the break - and Basey continue on the left, with Youga still out injured. The vacant spot in the centre of midfield caused by Semedo’s suspension was taken by Racon, while Wagstaff started again wide left, with Sam on the right (and unlike against Brighton they didn’t swap positions through the game), and Burton and Mooney continuing together up front. The rest of the team picked itself, with Bailey continuing in the centre – and being the subject of sustained abuse from the Southend fans, who seemingly still bear a grudge about him decamping to us.
The early play was scrappy and Southend had more of the play, with their front two happy to drop deep to pick up possession. In that role they were effective through the game; when it came to putting the round thing in the netty thing they were pants. The first decent chance fell to us, with the ball worked down the flank and played in to Mooney, who didn’t make the most of his chance. The shot was blocked and ran on to Burton and then to Racon, both of whom failed to convert. Then it was their turn, with what proved to be their best opening all afternoon. Defenders were drawn to the right side and when the ball was squared one of their number was alone in the box, with time to kill. Instead of burying it first time he cut inside to make a better angle and allowed Elliot to make an excellent save.
We were lacking fluidity, with Racon struggling to get into the game and two wingers not getting any decent service. But it wasn’t long before we took the lead. Sam was once more the provider, playing a ball in from the right that seemed to be going through tamely to the keeper before Burton nipped in with a vital deflection. Burton was to go on to give a demonstration of the art of how to play as a target man and an outlet against bigger defenders, often (sometimes legally, sometimes craftily) keeping us on the front foot by ensuring that their centre-backs were unable to make telling headers clear. The goal proved to be the catalyst for our best period of play, with Racon coming more into it and the passing and movement improving. A couple of half-chances went begging, although Southend always seemed a threat from set pieces, especially with Racon in particular giving away a number of free kicks (which eventually saw him pick up a yellow card).
At the break it seemed far from a classic, but there was enough encouragement for us from uncertainty in their defence, if only we could raise the game and get better service to the wide men and get more of a grip on midfield. But for entertainment value the second half was disappointing. We seemed content to play on the break and seldom threatened, quite content with defending a 1-0 lead, which gave Southend ample possession. But with the defence well organised and they did all their best work outside the box and aside from a couple of shots from free kicks - including on in a dangerous position which their guy put over the bar, only for the ref to take exception to something and book their player before making him retake it, with the same outcome, and one which saw Bailey pick up a yellow - I can’t remember them having any chances. Elliot dealt well with the crosses that came in, while Sodje(S), Dailley, Basey and Omozusi had excellent games.
Sodje(A) came on for Mooney, who had a decent game but failed to convert his one real chance, while later Spring replaced Racon to see out the game. By the last 15 minutes we were content with what we had and saw out the rest of the game reasonably comfortably. Another professional and committed display on a wet afternoon, which coming on the back of the win at Brighton (and with victories for Norwich and Colchester too) nobody should be complaining about.
Elliot: 9/10. One excellent save in the first half and thereafter he dealt with everything he had to. Actually a faultless performance, but to get a 10 they would have had to have had more shots on target.
Richardson: 7/10. In retrospect he clearly must have been struggling with the injury and was replaced at half-time. Hope he hasn’t put back his return to full fitness.
Basey: 8/10. Excellent work at the back. Not much going forward, but it wasn’t that sort of game. Like all the other defenders he was up against physically stronger opponents, but only once (when in the first half he was outpaced by their guy going forward) did he come off second-best.
Sodje(S): 8/10. Probably just about man of the match for me. Powerful headed clearances and basically he and the others ensured that Southend had very few opportunities to score inside the box.
Dailly: 8/10. As with Sodje, telling interceptions and an intelligent and effective game.
Wagstaff: 6/10. One or two good pieces of play, but generally struggled to get involved. It was significant that Sam had an equally mixed game but he was involved in just about all our telling moments.
Bailey: 7/10. Tough game, given their muscle in midfield. Stood up well to the task, as you’d expect.
Racon: 6/10. Not the best of returns, with frustration sometimes getting the better of him as they knocked him off the ball. Was instrumental in our best period, but had little opportunity to dictate the play.
Sam: 7/10. Often frustrating and often a little static when we needed to create space. But again, our best moments involved him.
Mooney: 7/10. Decent enough game, caused them some problems, although with neither he nor Burton blessed with great pace we perhaps didn’t put their defence under enough pressure. If we had more goals would surely have come as they looked far from assured at the back.
Burton: 8/10. Excellent exhibition of how to lead the line against difficult opponents. Scored the goal and was a thorn in their side all afternoon.
Omozusi (8/10; let no-one down in the second half and seems to be improving with each game); Sodje(A) (6/10: failed to have an impact on the game, although by the time he came on we were not going forward much; it is his last appearance for us?); Spring (7/10: came on and did an effective job to see out the game).