Southend 2-1 Oxford – All At Sea report

7 Nov

Hall's wonder-strike was enough to win the match

I WAS forced to watch the opening 15 minutes of this game from the South Lower, for reasons too dull to explain. I haven’t sat there since I was 14 and for good reason, the sightlines are truly terrible and I wonder how I remember anything from the games I saw from that vantage point. Luckily, I saw most of the action as Oxford were kicking towards the South in the first half and were busying themselves with tearing our defence and midfield apart at will. Fortunately, their inability to beat the outstanding Luke Daniels meant that, having received what can only be described as a total footballing lesson, we remained at 0-0 until just before the break.
Oxford fans did what most medium sides at this level do (sadly, ourselves included) whenever an away attendance of more than 400 is present and insisted on spending most of their time singing songs congratulating themselves on what can only described as a mediocre 700-strong following. Given their league position and the relative proximity of the clubs, I’m not sure singing “what’s it like to see a crowd” at a ground which saw almost 10,000 home fans earlier in the month was particularly wise. That said, they were right to be boistrous – they had the league leaders well and truly on the rack, with James Constable guilty of passing up two gilt-edged chances.
Southend struggled to create even a half-chance in the first half until they won a soft free kick in the left channel. Up stepped Ryan Hall to curl a fantastic ball to the back post, where the unmarked Mark Phillips rose to head the ball past the goalkeeper and into the net in front of some rather perplexed yellow-shirted fans.
Peter Leven, who had scored from the half-way line the week before, was Southend’s chief tormentor in the first half having been denied twice from free-kicks, and Daniels again flew to his left to keep out another in the opening stages of the second.
But Blues were slowly but surely working their way back into this, and should have made it two when Michael Timlin was presented with an early Christmas present.
Reading the play brilliantly, he nipped in to intercept a pass to the last Oxford defender on the halfway line. The defender had gone to ground and committed himself, and Timlin was all alone with just the goalkeeper to beat and at least 20 yards ahead of the chasing U’s defence. He had almost too much time and chose to try and hit the ball with the outside of his left foot. Embarrassingly, his effort was completely mis-hit and trickled out towards the far touchline. It didn’t even go out for a throw in, and the entire ground gasped in total disbelief – the on-loan midfielder had been enjoying another fine game up until that moment.
The Oxford equaliser was totally inevitable and resulted from Blues offering the influential Leven far too much time to curl in a cross to the back post, where full-back Damien Batt had got forward to devastating effect, looping a header across goal and into the far corner.
At that stage, there would have been few inside Roots Hall who would have thought the next goal was coming for the home team. But they had reckoned without Ryan Hall. Blues’ talisman had been reportedly up all night expelling bodily fluids thanks to a sickness bug. But when Timlin showed terrific vision to play him in 25 yards out, he dropped a shoulder to open up space to his defender’s right, and curled an unstoppable left foot shot over Ryan Clarke and into the far corner of the net.
It was an extra special strike, and the importance of the game added to the dominance of the opposition meant it was celebrated hard by the Roots Hall faithful.
Hall was shortly withdrawn for Anthony Grant, which prompted a few quizzical comments from the crowd. However, Paul Sturrock has shown tactical genius in abundance this year and the substitution killed the game thanks to some excellent ball retention by Grant, not to mention his customary ability to win some very convenient free-kicks.
As Oxford abandoned their neat passing to try and get back into the game via the long ball, it played into Southend’s hands, and aside from one half-chance which resulted in a shot high and wide from the edge of the box, Southend held firm. The home side could even have had a third in stoppage time when the bandaged head of Ryan Leonard made contact with a Timlin corner, but his header was brilliantly palmed onto the post by Clarke.
Fireworks and huge relief accompanied the final whistle, but there was to be a sad ending for one fan who had slipped and fallen off a wall whilst trying to glimpse the action from the bank on the south east corner. He left the ground on a stretcher, hopefully he was OK.


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