United continued their impressive start to the season with another three points tonight as Tom Craddock’s two second half goals eased them past ten-man Southend. Craddock’s clinical strikes were enough for the U’s who dominated against a Shrimpers side reduced to ten after Michael Tomlin’s first half red card.
Having made the first change to the side this season with Deane Smalley coming in for James Constable (ie. Deano for Beano), United started very positively and saw Jake Forster-Caskey tickle a stanchion with a free kick and then blast another effort just wide in the first six minutes.
Southend are not a side that the U’s would choose to face in their opening home league games, the Shrimpers having won the last six meetings, but besides one quick squandered break by Gavin Tomlin on 17 minutes the visitors were content to contain in the opening quarter.
However their game plan changed on 27 minutes as the traditional red card in this fixture went the way of Timlin. Already booked for a foul on Damian Batt the former Swindon midfielder needlessly tripped Forster-Caskey as he looked to bring the ball out of defence, and ref Oli Langford had no choice but to show a second yellow card.
The numerical advantage meant that United were now able to play the ball about and enjoy spells of keep-ball, with the visitors getting men behind the ball in the prescribed fashion and taking trying to take time out of the game. Smalley almost forced a Chapman free kick over the line on 36 before keeper Cameron Belford clawed the ball back, and the striker then came as close as anyone to breaking the deadlock in the first half as he first stepped over a 42nd minute cross from the ever-adventurous Batt then seized on the rebound but could only plant his reflex sidefoot effort wide of the far post.
There was still time for Sean Rigg to force a good save out of Belford right on half time with a far post header but all the signs were pointing towards an opener, and it wasn’t long into the second half before the breakthrough came. Craddock, on for Cox at half time, has a great knack of finding space inside the box at crucial moments and on 54 ghosted in to the box with a perfectly timed run to reach Potter’s cross at the near post and deftly flick the ball beyond Belford for the crucial first goal.
In truth that goal just about killed the game as United started to keep the ball and make their visitors chase shadows, but they should have made it 2-0 as Rigg’s excellent drive from the left was superbly tipped round the post by Belford just before the hour and Craddock saw a rising effort go fizzing just wide of the mark five minutes later.
The problem is when you are playing against your bogey side that they tend to forget when they are beaten, and the danger continued to be that Southend would find a way to score on the break. It took a good hand from Ryan Clarke to palm a cross away from danger on 73 minutes, and the visitors continued to look dangerously swift on the counter.
However the game should have been dead and buried on 74 minutes as some unbelievable skill from Potter saw him wriggle through the massed ranks of defenders but curl his right footed shot with just too much power and see it bounce away off of the far post. The elusive Potter continued to rampage past defenders at will, while the ever willing Smalley and the clever movement of Craddock were the perfect foils.
There were a few off target efforts from distance to test the windscreens in the car park at the West End but United were always in control of the game, if not those shots, and looked to be a team full of confidence and understanding. Potter might have added a second, Craddock saw a shot saved on 85, and Rigg somehow sent an 87th minute shot out for a throw before Craddock once again showed them the way with a jinking run and a shot that buried the ball past Belford in the 88th minute from six yards to make it 2-0.
In all honesty there was only ever going to be one result in a one sided second half. It is still very early days but this was another very encouraging night’s work from the Yellows who have still to concede a goal in 300 minutes of the new season.
See you on Saturday as we welcome Plymouth Argyle to the Kassam Stadium
Clarke, Batt, Raynes, Wright, Capaldi, Cox (Craddock h/t), Chapman, Forster-Caskey, Potter (Evans 90), Smalley, Rigg
McGinty, Heslop, Constable, Pittman, Brown,
Fifty/50 winner: 235856
Report by Chris Williams