Oxford United's five-game winning streak came to an end tonight as Marc Antoine Fortune and Theo Robinson headed Southend to a 2-0 win.
Two good sides playing decent football probed for openings throughout but a single goal always looked like deciding a very tight game. A speculative effort from Liam Sercombe
was the only half chance in a cautious first 15 minutes. A Chris Maguire
free kick on 18 then rippled the side netting, fooling the South Stand Upper but the wrong side of the left-hand post, before Toni Martinez
sent in a low effort on 23 that lacked any real venom but let everyone know that United were upping their game for probably their best period of the match.
Their best chance of the night came on 26 when Chey Dunkley
thundered a corner against the right-hand post with defenders unable to stop him reaching the dead ball. A minute later Martinez flicked the ball over the top when he perhaps had more space than he thought inside the box before Ledson blasted a powerful effort just wide on 29 as the pressure grew on the Southend defence.
, fresh from signing a new two-year deal, had been untroubled in the first half hour but needed to be at his best to tip a Simon Cox effort over the bar on 35 as the visitors pressed for the first time but United had created the better chances in the first 45 minutes and were again on the offensive early in the second half: one outrageous dragback from Marvin Johnson
worth the ticket price alone.
However, Southend are a bogey team for the U's and looked disciplined and dangerous on the counter. On 62 they were in front as Jason Demetriou surged forward and was given too much space on the right to pick out his man with a perfect cross which Fortune headed home from ten yards out to make it 1-0. It was a simple enough finish but it spurred United into a renewed effort to find a way past that stubborn Southend back line.
Dunkley dunked another header wide on 77 from a Hall delivery but it was one of those nights where the U's just needed a break of the ball or a half chance to fall their way. There were loud appeals as Johnson went crashing to the floor on 79 but only a corner was awarded, with Dunkley once again reaching the corner but this time heading straight at keeper Ted Smith, who saved comfortably. Hall curled an 81st-minute free kick wide of the post but unlike on Saturday against MK Dons this time there was to be no dramatic ending and on 87 the game was decided as sub Robinson peeled off his man to thump another header past Eastwood from similar range to Fortune, this time from a Luke O'Neill corner.
A winning run like United's had to end somewhere although the manner of defeat will hurt them: two unmarked headers from close range, unusual against the normally so tight back line. However, we move on to the FA Cup at Middlesbrough looking to bounce back. Valentine's Day can't always be chocolate and roses...
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Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Darrell Fisher, stats by OPTA
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