In the end the trip to Roots Hall proved not to be an act of total lunacy, but it was a bloody close thing. After Tuesday night’s defeat the team came pretty close to leaving the pitch to more boos; instead – thanks to a combination of a wanton act of violence by one of their players, some substitutions which (in contrast to the Yeovil game) improved the team through the night, and them damn breaks – they departed to a chorus of approval (aimed especially at Nicky Bailey after his rough ride through the game, from the Southend team and supporters). Just a brief run through the game’s major incidents is enough to underline it could have gone either way, although Southend are a bit down on their luck at the moment (having lost to a stoppage time winner at Norwich) and with the one-man advantage and substitute Kyle Reid running their full-back ragged we finished the game the stronger, even if the winner was a little late in coming.
If there are more than the usual quota of errors in the account that would have something to do with the view of the pitch from where we were standing (there were seats, but I wasn’t aware anyone was using them), plus the fact my eyesight isn’t what it used to be. Having left it late to get the tickets, our vantage point – from around the corner flag with the pitch obscured by nine pillars (including one large one right in the centre – wasn’t exactly ideal, while the PA system was a muffled noise somewhere in the distance. We just about managed to work out the substitutions as the game progressed, but still needed confirmation to identify the scorer of our first goal at least. Still, all’s well that ends well.
The team saw Reid drop to the bench after a disappointing display on against Yeovil, with Bailey moved out to the left again and Semedo returning to add some muscle to central midfield alongside Racon. With Burton injured Sodje(A) started with Mooney up front. But to say we struggled to get going (again) is an understatement. Southend had an obvious aerial threat up front, given the size of their forwards, but they troubled us on the ground too as the two up front seemed to have an understanding of how to play together. By contrast Sodje and Mooney were almost completely shut out, our play was flat and one-paced, and we struggled to retain the ball, let alone pass it. The first half passed with only a Bailey run inside and decent shot and a mazy dribble by Sam. Otherwise it was poor stuff, despite us being handed the extra man advantage as it was clear that the bad feeling towards Bailey wasn’t just on the part of their fans. I didn’t get a clear view of the incident, but it seemed that after the referee awarded them a free kick just outside our box Bailey might have been a little slow to hand over the ball. He received a punch in the face for his troubles, with no arguments offered by their player for the red card (for good measure Bailey was given a yellow).
Even that failed to lift our play and instead it was Southend creating the chances. Elliot had made two excellent saves (including one from the red card free kick) and I was just remarking about what a keeper he is turning into when we made a hash of cutting out a through ball, allowing their forward the time and space to line up a shot from outside the box. It was a decent strike, but one Elliot was – or should have been – well behind. Instead he allowed it to squirm underneath him and trickle over the line. Just one of those things, but once more we were behind and chasing a game – and playing badly.
We managed some better possession early in the second half, but it was clear that something had to be changed as we were not making the extra man count. And the change made pretty much turned out to be the match-winner. Semedo gave way for Reid, with Bailey moving back inside. It soon became clear that Reid had their full back for pace and, with Jackson getting forward well in support, we were starting to cause problems. And now the chances did begin to come. The best of them fell to Mooney as the ball broke to him around the penalty spot it seemed he only had to hit the target, but instead he found a defender on the ground on the line. That was followed soon after by an excellent save from their keeper, which was starting to give the impression that it wasn’t going to be our night.
The equaliser did finally materialise with about 20 minutes left. More good work down the left produced a dangerous cross to the far post and it was Sodje (apparently) who came in to prod it home. That goal redeemed an otherwise disappointing game, with by then McKenzie having replaced Mooney. The stage seemed set for us to go on to win it, but a few minutes later the next key moment was to occur at the other end. After a corner for them saw a free header put wide, the referee gave them another free kick just outside the box and this time the short seemed destined for the top corner. I think Elliot got a hand to it to balance his previous mistake and the ball came back off the bar, dropping to the feet of one of their forwards who surely should have scored. Instead there was a block and Southend’s chances of victory had gone.
They were still looking good for a point, however, as the game entered stoppage time (by which time Wagstaff had replaced Sam), but the sweetest moment of the night was yet to come. The ball was played to Reid and he realised that there was space behind the full back. He took him on for pace and got past him and although the angle was tight curled a delicious shot into the bottom corner. It was a superb piece of wing play and a goal worthy of deciding a game, although I doubt you’ll find a Southend fan to agree.
I thought tonight was going to be about keeping a clean sheet and perhaps nicking a win. Perhaps the team was lined up for that. A sending off and a goal conceded changed all that, prompting the changes through the game. Overall we were far from convincing, with the first-half display below par and no way of telling what would have happened if we had been up against 11 all game. But we got them breaks and let’s just take them tonight. Thoughts about the next game can wait as we can at least sit back and see how the others do tomorrow (well, today actually).
Elliot: 7/10. Would have been a 9 based on the saves he made, but the goal conceded was an error and he will have been relieved by the stoppage-time winner.
Richardson: 7/10. Decent enough game, once again no complaints.
Jackson: 8/10. I thought he made a real contribution, especially going forward with Reid in the second half. Settling in nicely.
Llera: 7/10. Was troubled by their forwards, which was hardly surprising given their size, but stuck to the task.
Dailly: 7/10. Much the same as Llera. He continues to be the unsung hero of this season, quietly going about his job.
Bailey: 8/10. Back out wide-left, then back in the middle. Nearly scored, then gets clobbered. It was an eventful return for him and he was instrumental in getting us more clearly on top in the second half.
Semedo: 6/10. Didn’t work for him and Racon together tonight, even when they lost their player. Made way early in the second half.
Racon: 6/10. Indifferent first half when we couldn’t get any passing game going, came more into it in the second.