SOUTHEND United held promotion rivals Crawley Town to a 0-0 draw at Roots Hall tonight – despite playing the final 10 minutes of the match with just nine men.
Blues had skipper Chris Barker sent off on the hour mark for deliberate hand ball and had to rely on goalkeeper Cameron Belford saving the subsequent Billy Clarke penalty.
Things got worse for Southend when striker Liam Dickinson was stretchered off in the 80th minute after manager Paul Sturrock had already made his three substitutions.
Yet Blues were still able to hang on to record a heroic draw.
Crawley were left to reflect on a wasted opportunity and were on top early on when midfielder Sergio Torres headed straight at Belford.
But both sides struggled to deal with the strong wind and rain in the opening exchanges.
Goalscoring chances and any excitement therefore remained quite limited but, with 12 minutes on the clock, Town striker Billy Clarke curled a 25 yard free kick just past the right post.
In reply, Southend striker Jack Sampson fired a deflected snap shot wide of the left post following a long throw in to the box by Lee Hills.
However, Crawley were causing problems again in the 38th minute when Scott Davis latched on a to a loose pass from Neil Harris and unleashed a low 25 yard shot which Belford did well to divert around the right upright.
With play immediately switching back to the other end of the field, Harris then dragged a left footed shot wide of the right post after being teed up by his strike partner Sampson.
As a result, the game remained goalless at the break but Crawley were back on top at the start of the second period with Clarke cutting in off the right flank before forcing Belford in to action with a well struck left footed shot.
Town then came even closer to opening the scoring when Shaun Batt’s left wing cross was flicked in to the path of Josh Simpson by Clarke.
But the midfielder, who spent the first five months of last season on loan at Blues, could only send his six yard volley wide of the left post when he should have done better.
Blues had an even bigger let off on the hour mark when another shot from Simpson was parried out by Belford and Clarke’s follow up effort, from a seemingly offside position, was handled on the goal-line by Barker.
Referee Neil Swarbrick immediately pointed to the spot and sent off the Southend skipper but Crawley were still unable to open the scoring as Clarke’s penalty was well saved by Belford.
The on loan Bury keeper dived full length to his left hand side to keep out the original effort and then also recovered well to dive on the loose ball.
Blues reorganised by bringing on Luke Prosser for Sampson with the substitute reverting to the heart of the back to take Barker’s place before Dickinson quickly followed him on to the pitch as a replacement for David Martin.
Fourteen minutes from time, Kane Ferdinand also entered the action in place of the injured Lee Hills but four minutes later Dickinson was also forced off.
The striker left the pitch on a stretcher after a challenge from Warren Cummings and that left Blues with only nine men.
Crawley attempted to make the most of their extra men with Davies shooting inches over the crossbar from long range before Clarke volleyed wide of the left post from six yards.
But the visitors could not make the breakthrough, despite six minutes of added on time being played, as Blues dug deep to pick up a determined share of the spoils.