RYAN Leonard’s first goal in 17 months handed Southend United a determined 1-0 win against Oxford United at Roots Hall this afternoon.

The substitute midfielder sent a looping header in to the back of the net from 12 yards.

But Blues were grateful to the fine form of goalkeeper Paul Smith who twice did well to deny Alfie Potter in the first half.

The winger’s first opportunity came inside the opening 30 seconds when Sean Rigg sent him clean through on goal.

However, Potter saw his low shot blocked by the legs of Smith before he fired the resulting rebound wide of the right post from six yards.

Chances were few and far between after that early opportunity but the visitors again came close to scoring in the 19th minute when Adam Chapman’s left wing corner sailed over the head of Blues goalkeeper Paul Smith and was nodded off the goal-line by Kevan Hurst.

Southend soon hit with Sean Clohessy firing wide of the left post from 20 yards but Oxford were soon back on top with Damian Batt shooting over from 12 yards following a fine move from the visitors.

With play then switching back to the other end of the field, Kevan Hurst had a shot deflected wide of the right post but Oxford wasted another great chance to score in the 40th minute, with Potter again one on one against Smith.

The winger raced on to Rigg’s through ball but saw his low impressively tipped wide of the left post by Smith.

That ensured the first half ended goalless but Blues almost broke the deadlock two minutes in to the second period when Michael Timlin collected a short Hurst corner and delivered a right wing cross which Damian Batt headed against his own right post.

In reply, U’s winger Sean Rigg then fired wide of the left post and in to the side netting from the edge of the penalty area before Blues replied by registering the first shot of the game on target in the 54th minute with Barry Corr sending a half volleyed shot straight at Luke McCormick.

The controversial Oxford keeper was making his first Football League appearance since being jailed in 2008 for causing the death of two young children by dangerous driving.

He served half of a four year and seven month sentence and was handed a hostile reception on his return to the professional game by the Roots Hall crowd.

He had little to do for most of the game and, in a bid to improve his side, Blues boss Paul Sturrock made a trio of substitutions in quick succession with Caolan Lavery, Leonard and Ben Reeves all entering the action.

And it was Leonard who proved to the match winner five minutes from time when Corr teed up Timlin and his deep left wing cross was handed head from 12 yards by Leonard to ensure a second successive 1-0 win for Southend.