Southend United's win at Chesterfield could be most vital win this term

Safe hands - Paul Smith pulled off some fine saves in the Southend goal, including this one from Marc Richards' free-kick

Safe hands - Paul Smith pulled off some fine saves in the Southend goal, including this one from Marc Richards' free-kick

First published in Sport by

SOUTHEND United’s 1-0 win at Chesterfield on Saturday may not have been the most exciting or entertaining.

But, come the end of the season, it could well prove to be one of the most important.

For the hard-fought triumph at the Proact Stadium ended a run of six games without a win in normal time for Paul Sturrock’s side.

And the victory also put impetus back in to Blues’ push for promotion as they moved back in to the play-off positions.

As well as that, the determined display handed Chesterfield their first home defeat since losing to Barnet in October, and it was very much Southend’s fighting spirit which saw them come out on top.

Such attributes were needed in abundance as the Spireites were on top for most of the match and enjoyed prolonged periods of possession and pressure.

However, Blues were able to stand strong and secure their first clean sheet since winning 3-0 at Dagenham & Redbridge on Boxing Day.

Impressive performances from Mark Phillips and Ryan Cresswell at the heart of the back four helped to make that happen as they made numerous clearances both in the air and on the ground, while, just behind them, Paul Smith was also in fine form.

The experienced shot-stopper endured a shaky start to his Southend career and was subjected to criticism from supporters watching from the stands and also on these pages.

But, against Brentford in the FA Cup in his side’s previous outing, Smith produced one of the greatest goalkeeping displays in Blues’ recent history, and he was also in fine form at the weekend.

The shot-stopper did superbly well to tip a first half free-kick from Marc Richards onto the crossbar and, after the break, he denied both Neal Trotman and Conor Townsend in impressive fashion.

However, where Smith showed the most improvement was in communicating with his back four and timing when to come off his line to deal with long balls dropping over the defence.

Such a scenario had been causing Blues all kinds of problems this season and, while two good games do not make a season, Smith now seems far more settled between the sticks.

If that can be maintained then Southend’s chances of surging up the League Two standings will significantly increase, and the early signs also seem to suggest that the signing of Michael Spillane will help that happen too.

The midfielder looked solid and very assured in the centre of the park on his debut against Chesterfield and performed a vital role which had been missing since Tamika Mkandawire’s loan spell from Millwall came to an end.

It was certainly not a coincidence that Blues’ slump in fortunes came when Mkandawire headed back to the Lions and signing a replacement was therefore a necessity during the transfer window.

Spillane falls into that category and now only another winger is needed to strengthen the squad for the remainder of the campaign.

Blues will be hoping that proves to be a period to remember and, with the chance of playing at Wembley in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy still a possibility, that could definitely prove to be the case.

For that to happen though, there will certainly need to be more quality on show than there was on Saturday as Southend often struggled to keep hold of the ball and surrendered possession too cheaply.

But the fact they were still able to triumph will do wonders for the team’s confidence and belief.

And, adding that to the spirit which clearly exists in this side, means there is plenty to be looking forward to in the next few months for everyone connected with Southend United.

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