SOUTHEND United are just one round away from playing at Wembley after winning a dramatic Johnstone’s Paint Trophy area semi-final on penalties at Oxford United tonight.

Blues looked to be heading through in normal time until Sean Rigg’s 89th minute equaliser secured a 3-3 draw for the U’s.

But it was Paul Sturrock’s side who held their nerve in the shoot-out, winning 5-3, with Elliot Benyon firing home the decisive effort from 12 yards after Alfie Potter had seen his penalty saved by substitute goalkeeper Daniel Bentley.

The young shot-stopper replaced Paul Smith between the sticks for the penalties after his heroics in the FA Cup shoot out success against Bury.

And he again came up trumps for Blues.

Before that late drama however, Southend had started brightly and took just six minutes to open the scoring, with Corr on target.

The tall targetman rose high to meet a right wing free-kick from Kevan Hurst and planted a firm header into the bottom right hand corner of the net.

Moments later, Southend came close to doubling their lead when Gavin Tomlin had a low shot blocked U’s goalkeeper Ryan Clarke before the recalled Anthony Straker fired the rebound wide of the left post from a narrow angle.

But, having survived the scare, Oxford hit back to equalise in the 14th minute of the match.
Potter started the move by tricking his way past Chris Barker on the right flank and delivering a cross which picked out Rigg.

The winger saw his six yard header impressively saved by Smith but the rebound fell kindly to Tyrone Marsh who headed his first professional goal in to the back of the net from close range.

The home-side then came close to taking the lead when Rigg brought the ball back on to his left foot and fired a 20 yard shot only inches wide of the left post.

In reply, Blues soon almost took the lead as well as a right wing cross from Alex Woodyard was headed inches wide of the left post by Tomlin from close range.

But, with play switching switching back to the other end of the field, Oxford went in front for the first time in the 31st minute, with Craddock bagging his 12th goal of the season.

The in-form forward latched on to a diagonal long ball forward from Simon Heslop and, with Smith poorly hesitating on his line before rushing out, the striker sent a lobbed shot over the embarrassed keeper’s head and in to the net via the inside of the right post.

That was despite the best efforts of Mark Phillips who volleyed the ball away but only after the linesman had ruled it had already crossed the line.

With Oxford looking to extend their advantage, Rigg then had a 25 yard free-kick parried to safety by Smith before the Blues goalkeeper pushed a chipped effort from Marsh around the right post.

Smith’s opposite number, Clarke, then also did well to block a low shot from Tomlin with his legs.

However, Southend got back on level terms nine minutes in to the second half, with Clohessy bagging his second goal of the season.

The Blues right back reacted quickly after U’s left-back Luke O’Brien miscontrolled a cross-field ball from Michael Timlin inside the penalty area and  drilled a low 12 yard shot in to the bottom left hand corner of the net.

Sixty seconds later, Southend almost went back in front when Tomlin headed a fantastic right wing cross from Clohessy against the bar from eight yards.

But Sturrock’s side were not to be denied a third goal and it came in the 59th minute, with Corr brilliantly bagging his second strike of the night.

The striker swapped passes with Tomlin on the edge of the penalty area and superbly guided a curling shot in to the top left hand corner of the net.

That seemed to have secured Southend’s passage in to the area final but, in the 89th minute, Oxford equalised to make it 3-3 as Tony Capaldi’s left wing corner was flicked on at the near post to allow Rigg to head home from inside the six yard box.

As a result, the tie went to a penalty shoot out but, before they were taken, Blues opted to change goalkeepers with Bentley coming on to replace Smith, who did not look happy with the decision.

The former Southampton shot-stopper did not shake hands with Bentley on his way off the pitch and stormed straight down the tunnel.

The first seven penalties were all scored with Tomlin, Clohessy, Hurst and Timlin on target for Blues.

But Potter then saw his spot-kick saved to his right hand side by Bentley, allowing Benyon to fire home the decisive spot-kick to set up a two legged area final against Leyton Orient.