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Southend United turn form table on its head with win at Oxford United
ANYONE who follows Southend United should have learnt by now to always expect the unexpected.
The Shrimpers went in to Saturday’s game at Oxford United without a win since mid-August, on the back of six matches without a victory and without two of their most experienced players – Mark Phillips and Freddy Eastwood.
In contrast, their hosts sat second in the table with just one defeat in their last eight outings.
In fact, such were the side's contrasting fortunes ahead of the clash at the Kassam Stadium, that the BBC’s Football League Show were in attendance, complete with their roving reporter Mark Clemmit for a feature on Oxford’s push for promotion.
But, such is the strange, twisted logic connected with Southend, it was perhaps inevitable that they would upset the form guide and that is exactly what they did with a well deserved 2-0 win which meant the BBC’s feature found itself on the cutting room floor!
Blues were by far the stronger side as Phil Brown enjoyed his best result since taking charge of the Shrimpers.
And it was probably the best performance he has bossed as well as the Shrimpers should certainly have won by a far more convincing margin.
The on loan Cauley Woodrow, who was otherwise very impressive in a more withdrawn role on the left hand side, missed two great chances to score in the closing stages.
Kevan Hurst was also denied twice by Oxford goalkeeper Ryan Clarke while Barry Corr was denied what appeared to be a clear cut penalty when he brought down by Johnny Mullins in the first half.
That controversial decision mattered very little come the end of the game as a young Shrimpers side, with an average age of 23.4, comfortably hung on to their lead to also secure their first clean sheet since beating Northampton Town in mid-August.
Ahead of the back four, in which Luke Prosser produced his best performance of the season so far, the work-rate and energy levels of the midfield enabled the Shrimpers to dominate for the majority of the match.
Conor Clifford was particularly impressive in the centre of the park, making a number of crunching challenges during an all action display which also saw him score a fine goal.
But, despite the obvious highs of the weekend’s win, there are still major issues for the cash strapped Blues to overcome if they are to progress and being able to name just six substitutes on Saturday was another indication of those problems.
The team still needs to be strengthened with more character and leadership but whether or not the club’s fragile finances will allow this to happen remains to be seen.
However, Saturday’s unexpected win certainly lifted the doom and gloom which had been beginning to gather during the Shrimpers’ run of indifferent results.
And the players were notably far happier at the end of the game after making it just one defeat in 11 matches against Oxford, who they must be wishing they could play far more often.
The challenge Blues now face is to repeat the standard of Saturday’s showing on a more consistent basis and continue to turn good performances in to points which had been a struggle at the start of the season.
Next up, they host Dagenham & Redbridge in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy before travelling to mid-table Burton Albion the following weekend.
Both of those are matches you would expect the Shrimpers to be more than capable of winning.
But, as Saturday’s game showed, expectations mean very little where Southend United are concerned!