Matty Taylor's seventh goal in six games made it four wins in four games as Oxford United's upward trajectory continued against a battling Southend this afternoon. Leading through a James Henry penalty, United were made to fight hard when Lewis Gard turned home a loose ball to level before the break but Taylor turned to fire home with five minutes left and finally end the visitors' stubborn resistance.
Southend will be heartbroken because, having conceded the first, they battled back and thought they had earned a draw at least.
It took 17 minutes for number 17 to make the breakthrough with a goal that perhaps highlights the visitors’ problems this season. A deep cross was palmed away by keeper Patrik Gunnarsson under pressure from Taylor who got his body between the keeper and the ball as three defenders dropped back to cover on the line. Gunnarsson inexpicably grasped out and dragged Taylor down; perhaps one of the defenders might have challenged instead of covering? But regardless, it was a clear penalty and Henry took care of the rest to make it 1-0.
United should have gone on from there but instead Simon Eastwood made a good save from a Stephen McLaughlin free kick after 20 minutes as Southend fought and battled back, Mark Sykes getting back to make an important interception after 28 minutes, but the danger for Sol Campbell’s side was that chasing the game left huge gaps for United to exploit at the other end.
Marcus Browne looked the most likely to take advantage, tormenting right-back Elvis Bwomono and the covering Terrell Egbri down United’s left, but Southend refused to accept defeat and were deservedly level at the break when Eastwood reacted brilliantly to prevent Rob Dickie from scoring an own goal but Gard was all on his own to nudge the ball home from two yards out to level at the break.
It might have got worse, with Eastwood twice making good saves to keep his side level, one save flying to his right to save from Gard and another to spike a Milligan header over the bar. You could sense the frustration from the home fans, most of whom know that United's record against Southend is not the best, but their team responded to their pleas and gradually started to push the visitors back.
Sub Dan Agyei's pace clearly unsettled the Southend back line, which dropped deeper to cope, and that invited more and more pressure. Browne didn't quite catch a volley from a corner but pressure was building and with five minutes left Browne, refusing to give up, kept running, crossed a deflected ball that reached Taylor and he turned and fired home to spark much joy among the United faithful.
A little tough on Southend, but United are on a roll at the moment and have the happy knack of not giving up. Check the number of late goals this season, where they refuse to settle for one point when three are on offer.
Upwards and onwards.
See you at Shrewsbury.
Report by Chris 'Rewrite' Williams, pictures Steve Daniels and Tom Melvin, stats by OPTA