Southend 1 United 0
The U's were beaten by a late goal at Roots Hall this afternoon. United had chances to take all three points, especially in the first half, but were left to rue those opportunities as sub Ryan Leonard headed home an 85th minute winner with his first touch of the match.
United should have been ahead inside 30 seconds with the first of two copycat chances in the first half. With their first attack of the match James Constable worked the ball to Sean Rigg and his ball to his right gave Alfie Potter the freedom of the penalty area. The ball got a little stuck between his feet but the delay enabled home keeper Paul Smith to close him down and save. Even then the rebound went straight to Potter but his follow up flew well wide of the mark.
With James Constable and Justin Richards forming a new partnership up front, something they once did for Kidderminster Harriers, United looked full of ideas in the opening 15 minutes, Constable turning and firing wide after 14 and wingers Sean Rigg and Alfie Potter seeing plenty of the ball.
Luke McCormick, on his debut had a couple of early touches to settle his nerves but it was defender Kevan Hurst who needed to make the best save in the early exchanges, somehow getting an Adam Chapman corner off the line on 18 minutes as it flew past keeper Smith. Richards then teed up constable for a well blocked shot asfter 29 minutes and other than a flashing drive from right back Sean Clohessy which went well wide on 32 minutes it was United who had vreated all of the chances.
A flowing move on 34 saw a nice flick from Richards and a lay-off from Constable to allow Damian Batt to race into the area and flip an effort at goal which whistled wide, although it took a typically brave block by the ever reliable Jake Wright to deflect a Hurst shot wide of the goal at the other end on 37.
Proving that lightning does strike twice, on 39 minutes Rigg sent Potter free on a near identical unopposed run at goal. Again he took his time, again he tried to force the ball low past the keeper and once again Smith got down superbly to push it away for a corner.
United should have been ahead at the break but needed the help of the post early in the second half as Batt headed the ball against McCormick’s left hand post while trying to clear in the 47th minute. The Yellows then saw Rigg lash a low drive into the side netting after another incisive move before the game got a little bogged down in midfield as chances began to dry up. Constable guided a 76th minute header on to the bar when offside but perhaps three meetings this season have built a healthy respect between these teams which turned into a very tight second half.
It was always going to be decided by the finest of margins and on 85 a lack of communication between Batt and McCormick allowed Barry Corr to nick the ball away for Michael Timlin to cross from the left. Leonard, arriving beyond the far post, did very well to power his header back across goal and over the stranded M cCormick to make it 1-0.
United threw men forward, going with just three at the back as they chased the game, but as with the Johnstone's Paint semi final between the teams last month just one moment was enough to decide a match between two fully committed sides in a very close game.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Darrell Fisher, stats by PA Sports. See highlights and reaction in Yellow Player