FIRST half goals from Ryan Hall and Bilel Mohsni ensured Southend United’s promotion push passed a stern examination at Oxford United this afternoon.
The dangerous wing duo both netted before the break at the Kassam Stadium to secure a comfortable 2-0 triumph for Paul Sturrock’s side.
And, with Crawley Town and Torquay United both failing to win, Blues’ victory also kept alive the possibility of a top three finish.
Southend now sit just one point behind their promotion rivals with one game to go.
But, despite the end result at the weekend, it was Oxford who were initially on top.
After just six minutes, Jon-Paul Pittman sped past Peter Gilbert down the right flank before teeing up former Blues loanee Dean Morgan with a low cross.
However the winger’s left footed shot was well blocked by the legs of Southend goalkeeper Cameron Belford before the on loan Bury stopper also did well to keep out a skimming effort from U’s midfielder Simon Heslop.
But, after surviving the early double scare, Southend hit back to open the scoring in the 19th minute with Hall netting against Oxford for the third game this season.
The winger thundered a 25 yard free-kick high in to the centre of the net after Neil Harris had been brought down by Michael Duberry to take his tally for the campaign to 14.
Yet U’s debutant goalkeeper, Connor Ripley, who signed on loan from Middlesbrough just before the game, would have been disappointed to have been beaten by the strike.
But, in the 31st minute, Ripley was again picking the ball out of the back of his net as a high looping left wing cross from Peter Gilbert picked out Mohsni who made no mistake with a stooping header in to the bottom right hand corner of the net from 12 yards.
The header was the Frenchman’s fourth goal in two games after he also netted a hat-trick against Barnet in Blues’ previous game.
His latest aerial effort stunned the U’s who immediately replied with Pittman in to Belford’s grateful gloves from just inside the penalty area but Blues then almost made it 3-0 in the 39th minute, with Mohsni this time the provider.
The Frenchman’s downward header picked out Neil Harris inside the area but the striker’s goalbound shot was impressively cleared off the goal-line by a sliding Duberry.
Harris then had a long range shot smothered by Ripley – the son of former England international Stuart - before Oxford pushed forward just before the break with Andy Whing having an 18 yard shot tipped to safety by Belford before Morgan headed a great chance over from six yards.
Morgan was causing problems again at the start of the second half as he fired straight at Belford from 12 yards and, in the 62nd minute, Duberry headed over a right wing corner from U’s substitute Adam Chapman.
With the home-side remaining on top, Pittman’s low shot was then blocked by the legs of Belford but, despite continuing to enjoy more of the possession, the home-side struggled to carve out clear cut chances.
However, with 79 minutes on the clock, the U’s were screaming for a penalty when substitute striker Cristian Montano went to ground inside the area following a challenge from Harris.
But referee Lee Collins opted to wave play on.
Blues immediately replied with Mohsni heading a deep left wing cross from Hall just wide of the right post but his earlier effort along with Hall’s free-kick was enough to ensure an exciting end of season shoot out at Roots Hall next Saturday.