Gary Waddock's first game in charge of the U's ended in defeat tonight as United were beaten 3-0 at Southend United. Goals in the first half from Will Atkinson and Lee Barnard eased Southend back into the play-off fight before a fine goal from Jamar Loza ensured that the U's came away with nothing.
There were changes to the side with Andy Whing and David Connolly rested as United played so soon after beating Hartlepool on Friday night. Deane Smalley came in up front alongside James Constable with Danny Rose replacing Whing. The other change was on the right wing where Alfie Potter took over from Ryan Williams
After a nervy start from both sides, swapping possession and not really looking dangerous, Southend took the lead after nine minutes with the first effort of the night. Jamar Loza, the game's outstanding player, made it with a run down the left and a ball in that was sliced goalwards but ran straight to Atkinson for a simple finish past the helpless Ryan Clarke.
They then doubled their advantage on 17 from the penalty spot. Wright’s header back was short and Loza chased it down. Clarke slid out to gather the ball but his momentum took Loza’s legs away and ref Dean Whitestone had no doubt. Lee Barnard sent the keeper the wrong way from the spot.
United couldn’t have given their new boss a worse start but did some show fight and might have got back into the game on 20 as Potter raced into the box but slipped at the vital moment. Constable and Rigg couldn’t force the ball home in the resulting confusion.
Michael Timlin tested Clarke with a 24th minute shot that the keeper got down to well before Constable wasted a golden chance at the other end as he leant back when meeting Hunt’s 25th minute corner and sent his volleyed shot high into the South Stand. Rigg sliced a 31st minute shot wide as United pressed but Southend might have made it three on 33 when Loza caused more problems and made Clarke make another good save.
United had one more chance right on the break when Rigg rose to flick Hunt’s corner goalwards but Kevan Hurst blocked it at the far post to keep his side’s two-goal lead intact at the interval.
Constable emerged from a pack of players to nudge an early chance wide from a long throw from David Hunt while Barnard fired two efforts just over at the other end. Smalley nodded into the keeper’s arms on 64 but in truth United were grateful to Clarke for keeping them in the game. The ever-reliable goalkeeper made a superb save to flick a Hurst shot over the bar and then somehow got a knee to John Egan's effort 30 seconds later.
Clarke made another spectacular save as Ryan Leonard's 30 yard shot looped off a defender and was set to drop in the net after 82 but the reprieve was short-lived as Loza showed strength, pace and persistence to charge past Wright and slot the ball beyond the helpless Clarke to get the goal he had deserved.
United stay in the play-off places as the season builds to a nail-biting finale but were well beaten over the 90 minutes tonight.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Darrell Fisher and Ollie Williams, Stats by Opta