Goals from local lads Callum O'Dowda and Sam Long counted for nothing as Oxford United were beaten by ten-man Southend United at the Kassam Stadium. First half goals from the two promising youngsters were cancelled out by strikes from David Worrall and Joe Pigott before Barry Corr's effort won it for a Southend side reduced to ten men after the dismissal of midfielder Gary Deegan in the first half.
It took a superb one-handed save from Ryan Clarke to keep a Worrall header out after just 30 seconds as the visitors started on the front foot, although a clever through ball from O'Dowda on 5 minutes gave Danny Hylton the chance to fire United's first effort at goal, the ball flying high after a nice looking passing move.
O'Dowda and the returning Hoskins showed plenty of invention up front alongside Hylton in a line-up that saw Long at right back and Michael Collins restored to midfield alongside Andy Whing, and it was from a Hoskins through ball that the U's took the lead on 13 minutes. A wonderful little flick from Hoskins took two defenders out of the running and allowed O'Dowda to race clear. Keeper Dan Bentley came out but O'Dowda was too composed and slipped the ball beyond him to make it 1-0 with his first goal at the Kassam Stadium.
However, Southend are a well-drilled outfit and came back at the U's, getting the ball in behind and putting dangerous crosses in to good areas. On 24 they were level as Worrall this time beat Clarke with a header from almost the same place as that first chance. A cross from the left, space for Worrall and back to all-square.
The Shrimpers might easily have taken the lead on 28 had Pigott taken the easier option of heading into the net from three yards out rather than somehow heading the ball over the bar, and at that stage were pressing the U's back. But on 33 minutes the game took a massive turn in United's favour as the visitors were reduced to ten men for the last hour of the game. Collins did well to storm through one tackle but then was taken out by Gary Deegan as they both gave no quarter in a 50/50 challenge. Deegan was late, and having been booked after 16 minutes for needlessly tripping Hylton gave ref Chris Sarginson little option other than a second yellow followed swiftly by a red.
The U's almost took advantage of the extra man to regain the lead immediately, only for Hoskins' to loft a lobbed effort just over the bar as well as the scrambling Bentley. O'Dowda's right-footed effort was slightly lower and would have gone in but for the fingertips of Bentley, but that led to a corner and from that United restored their advantage. It was a homegrown goal and underlined the potential of the crop of youngsters coming through at the club. O'Dowda swung the ball in, Long got in front of his man at the near post and his header flashed past Bentley to make it 2-1. Long's celebrations were great to see.
Against ten men there seemed little need for the three centre-halves of the first 45 and so Chey Dunkley was sacrificed to allow Patrick Hoban to make his first appearance and the U's to switch to a 4-2-3-1 shape with Hoban up top. Southend, aggrieved over the red card, came out firing and within four minutes were back on level terms, again from a well delivered cross from their left. Pigott threw himself forward, made perfect connection with his header and the ball was past Clarke and into the bottom left corner of the net before the keeper could move.
With the score 2-2 and both sides giving it everything, Hoskins was replaced by Wes Burns on 54 having shown some nice touches and linked play expertly, while Jon Meades replaced Long for the final quarter as the U's threw all they had at the stubborn Southend back line. There were chances, the best coming for Hoban whose thunderous shot was blocked by a defender and from Tareiq Holmes-Dennis whose shot was saved by Bentley.
The game looked there for the taking but Southend weren't finished yet. With five minutes left they sprang forward down the left and another cross from that side proved decisive as it found Barry Corr who turned it home from six yards out with a low shot past the helpless Clarke.
The Yellows launched a siege - Whing's shot flew wide off a Southend ankle, Mullins was somehow denied by Bentley deep into injury time and crosses and corners were sent into the box without a finishing touch. Southend stood strong though and saw the game out to take all three points
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Report by Chris Williams, Pictures by Steve Daniels
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