Oxford United's search for an away win continues after a second-half penalty gave Southend United a 2-1 win at Roots Hall this evening. Kane Hemmings
' header at the end of the first half had seen the U's level after a spectacular Ryan Leonard opener for the home side, but Anthony Wordsworth's penalty left United empty-handed despite a spirited display.
Michael Appleton reverted to 4-4-2 at the start, Hemmings coming back into the side and Chris Maguire
moving inside to run the show from a more central position. They started well, pushing a hesitant Southend side back, but on 13 minutes were a goal behind from a very fine strike. Chey Dunkley
did well enough to head away a cross from the right but it flew invitingly to midfielder Leonard who could not have struck his volley any sweeter from 20 yards. It ripped past the flying Eastwood and into the corner of the net to give the home side a 1-0 lead.
United, all in yellow, stuck to their guns and continued to move the ball around neatly but were in debt to Eastwood for a good save on 21 as Wordsworth, surrounded by a host of yellow shirts, again let fly from the edge of the box. Maguire flashed one wide from similar distance on 25 but Eastwood again came to the rescue with a dive to his right to push another long-distance effort away for a corner, this time from Jermaine McGlashan.
The clearest chance inside the box came the way of Hemmings on 33 when Liam Sercombe
ended a terrific passing move with a clipped cross from the right that picked out Hemmings only for the striker to get too much power on his header as he tried to send it back across keeper Mark Oxley and send it flying over the bar. However, with Marvin Johnson testing Oxley's handling on 43 with another low drive United had created chances and were level at the break when Johnson had a header cleared off the line and earned his side a corner. Worked short, Johnson flashed in a cross and Hemmings guided his header past the helpless Oxley to make it 1-1.
The second half was a rip-roaring end-to-end encounter with United committing men forward and pushing for that elusive first away victory. Hemmings and Maguire sent efforts over the top after promising build ups, Johnson flew at his man down the right flank and Sercombe, Lundstram and Rothwell ran themselves into the ground as they tried to join the front men at every opportunity.
Southend had created the best chances in the first half and continued to whip dangerous balls into the United box but Dunkley and Raglan were their usual stubborn selves and it was home keeper Oxley who kept his side in it. First he smothered a Maguire effort on 63 as the Scot tried to lob him, then somehow managed to tip the same player's header over the bar on 65 as Maguire tried to steer home a Hemmings cross. That two or three minute spell was to prove the vital part of the game.
Johnson drifted inside and curled a left footer inches wide on 69. Surely a goal was going to come? Sadly for the U's it came at the wrong end in very similar circumstances to the goal they conceded against Charlton on Saturday. This time a dipping cross to the left of the Southend attack was met by Ben Coker who smashed a hopeful effort at goal. It was a powerful shot and Phil Edwards
, five yards away, could do little to get out of the way. The ball struck his arm, but United protested loudly against ref Graham Horwood's decision to award a penalty. Wordsworth kept his cool to slot home the spot kick and make it 2-1.
United lifted themselves and did all they could to respond but Eastwood again had to be at his best to somehow deny Adam Barrett from six yards out as the defender tried to turn a loose ball home.
Agonisingly, when sub Wes Thomas
made perfect connection from a Johnson cross in the 89th minute, Oxley somehow outdid all of Eastwood's heroics with an unbelievable save to claw away the striker's shot from no more than six yards out. On another day that flies in and United head home with a point. Instead there was still time for another Eastwood full-stretch save from Jason Demetriou.
Two outstanding goalkeeping performances in an open game that was high on entertainment, although that will be little consolation to the U's who now move on to a trip to Bolton Wanderers on Saturday.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Darrell Fisher, Stats by OPTA
See Highlights and reaction in Yellow Player HD