United picked up their first away point of the season as Danny Hylton's second half penalty earned them a 1-1 draw at Roots Hall. Trailing to a Jack Payne goal at half time, United came back strongly and were good value for a point earned the hard way.
With Michael Collins unavailable due to a family illness, United paired Danny Rose and Josh Ruffels as the holding midfielders and gave Will Hoskins a full league debut up front. After an anxious first few seconds when George Long saved a Payne shot in the first attack of the game and Southend pressed United back, the U’s started to play their usual neat football and catch the eye with some clever movement. Joe Riley started to venture forward from right back, Rose began to knit play together and they were looking comfortable at the back, despite 17th-minute shouts for a penalty when Johnny Mullins baulked Payne.
The home side began to have more of the ball and sent two or three shots wide of the mark before United should have taken the lead from one of several opportunities. Brown cut inside and fired into the arms of keeper Daniel Bentley as the U’s tried their luck, before Hoskins had a golden opportunity on the half hour, bearing down on Bentley after Rose intercepted the keeper’s poor pass; the striker curled the ball beyond Bentley but also just outside the far post.
Riley limped off soon after to be replaced by the ever-reliable David Hunt but United were in a good spell at that point, with Hoskins bundled over by Thompson and denied a run at goal on 32 and then Mullins' header at the back post beaten away by Bentley on his goal line.
It was a good chance but there was a sense of inevitability when Southend then broke to the other end and opened the scoring. John White’s cross from the right was picked up by Payne who went to his right and then drilled a low shot across the stranded Long and into the bottom left corner of the net to make it 1-0 on 36 minutes.
Southend is not usually a happy hunting ground for the U's but Michael Appleton's side showed bags of character and came back strongly after the break and might have been level before the hour with three excellent chances. Hoskins caused chaos at the far post and amid loud shouts for a penalty for handball United couldn’t force the loose ball home. Then Newey crossed for Hylton on 55 but his superbly struck volley was well saved by the impressive Bentley. From the corner Hylton again twisted inside his man and got his shot away but once again Bentley was equal to it and tipped it over the bar to keep it at 1-0.
United were on top and now it was a question of whether this time they could take advantage of it. The answer came on 66 minutes. Hylton, who never stopped working all afternoon, picked up the ball 25 yards out and drove at the defence. Luke Prosser came across and dangled a leg to fell Hylton. Ref Andy Davies pointed straight to the spot and Hylton picked himself up to beat Bentley with his sixth goal of an excellent season.
United had worked hard for that equaliser and continued to play good football to try to turn it into their first three-point haul of the season, although it was without Hoskins, who left on a stretcher after 77 minutes after twisting horribly when trying to get in a shot at goal from 25 yards. This was one of several long stoppages in a bruising encounter that led to eight minutes of added time. United went for the win in that time but in the end had to settle for one point rather than three.
A good point against a side that had beaten them 10 times in the last 11 meetings. Commitment, heart, determination and belief all intact, add that elusive first win into the mix and United will soon be on the up.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Darrell Fisher, stats by OPTA