A late header from Michael Kightly gave Southend United all three Boxing Day points at Grenoble Road this afternoon. In the tightest of 90 minutes the experienced winger nodded home the only goal of the game to end United's run of five straight wins at home in Sky Bet eague 1.
It took a little while for the game to settle, with two well-matched sides working hard to close down space and keep the intensity high. Marcus Browne had a couple of early moments of magic without being able to pick out his man inside the box while Southend saw an Elvis Bwomono effort slice well over after 17 minutes.
Jamie Mackie tucked the ball into the net half way through the first half after a Whyte cross, although the flag was already up when he tapped home, and for all the good football (both teams) and work rate there weren’t too many chances. Theo Robinson was not able to reach a deep cross on 35 with Southend’s best chance of the half and Curtis Nelson volleyed United’s wide at the back post from a Cameron Brannagan free kick.
Brannagan, playing alongside John Mousinho and James Henry in midfield, got through a huge amount of work for his team, all three playing the ball in to Mackie and hoping United could spring from there and get Browne or Whyte in on goal. However, they were up against a very solid, very well-organised away defence and with United in similarly festive miserly mood it meant a quiet 45 minutes for both keepers, with Nathan Bishop dealing well enough with a Browne drive at the second attempt: the only shot on target of the first 45 minutes.
Robinson should really have given the visitors the lead two minutes into the second half but nodded a Dru Yearwood cross over the bar when well-placed at the back post and the two teams then exchanged five or ten minute good spells where they were both on top but not overly threatening.
Southend skipper Sam Mantom sent in a dangerous free kick that thankfully evaded everyone inside the box and bounced into the arms of Eastwood on 67 minutes, but it was James Henry who almost broke the deadlock for the U's when he volleyed narrowly wide from 20 yards out after sub Armani Little had headed him in to shooting range.
In the closest of games it was always going to take one moment of magic to open up the opposition and on 79 minutes it came from Robinson, who wriggled into enough space to stand up a cross. Kightly, unmarked, powered his header past Eastwood and Southend's one effort on target had ended in the winning goal.
United pressed: Nelson thundered one volley into a defender to set up a string of corners which Southend stood up to stoutly but for once there was to be no late drama.
No shortage of effort and fantastic support once again from a crowd of almost 9,000. That support deserved a better result; we will try again on Saturday against Bristol Rovers.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA