SOUTHEND United manager Phil Brown insisted Conor Clifford’s fine pre-season form made it impossible for him to be left out of Saturday’s clash at Accrington Stanley.

Clifford was selected instead of Will Atkinson in the midfield.

And he responded by producing an outstanding performance, which was praised heavily by Brown.

“Conor responded to the call, it was a good test for him out there and I thought he stood up to it,” said the Blues boss.

“When you think of Will Atkinson’s exploits last season then leaving him out was the toughest decision for me.

“But Conor had a great pre-season, he deserved his place in the team and he proved that with another good performance.”

Clifford’s exploits enabled the Shrimpers to stay on top but they found it hard to make a breakthrough.

And Brown feared his side may have to settle for just a share of the spoils, especially when Barry Corr failed to net a penalty early in the second half.

“We looked like the dominant team for most of the game but when we missed the penalty you start to think it might be one of those days,” said Brown.

“We kept on believing and I thought the changes we made certainly made a difference.

“We got our rewards in the end because if the goal had come earlier we might have got a second or a third.”

Blues’ winner came in the 85th minute when substitute Lee Barnard won and scored a decisive spot-kick.

And Brown thought both of the penalties his side were given were correctly awarded.

“I thought the referee was spot on both times, “said the Shrimpers chief.

“Of course I’m going to say that because they went the way of my team. “The losing manager may doubt them but Shaq (Coulthirst) was caught by the trailing leg of their player for the first one and the second one was blatant too.

“Lee Barnard’s effort gave us the points in the end but we should’ve won by more.”

That delighted Brown but he was still left frustrated by Accrington’s tactics as he felt they regularly attempted to slow the game down.

“I have to say I was disappointed by the amount of time wasting going on by the home team,” said Brown.

“They have a duty to entertain their crowd and then we get a double whammy because the referee has to add five minutes on at the end when we’ve been getting on with it.

“That’s the nature of the beast though, it’s happens in football and I’m just glad we got the win.”