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Feb 17, 2004
Sorry, it's a bit late but this is the first chance I've had to do the official SZ match report for yesterday.

It is often said in football that the true test of character of a team is how they bounce back from a demoralising defeat and if a vast majority of supporters were highly critical about how Southend United responded to a disappointing 4-0 reverse against relegation rivals Hull City with a limp derby-day display against the old-enemy from up the A12, the same can certainly not be said to how they performed on their long Easter Monday away-day trip up to Deepdale. Three clinical finishes from the central midfield duo of Kevin Maher and North-End reject Alan McCormack helped the Blues record a famous 3-2 away win when all seemed lost, both before kick-off & approaching full-time.

Pre-match, you could sense how on edge the loyal travelling band of supporters were in the away section. There was probably only in the region of 500 or so fans but they warmed up their vocal chords nicely as the team "got their eye in" with their regular shooting practice. Deepdale despite extensive redevelopment seems to have retained a sense of character, something which is missing from a lot of Championship stadia, and this should continue when the final side of the ground is finished in the near future. As soon as the majority of the players returned to the dressing room, a buzz went around the fans stating that Bradbury must have been dropped as he was still warming up with Moussa. It was also nice to see how the Southend fans responded to David Nugent's pre-match presentation for his recent full England cap (and goal) against Andorra.

Once the teams came out on the pitch, the initial suspicions about team selections were confirmed. Out from the previous starting XI went Hunt, Sodje, Foran & Bradbury to be replaced by Francis, Barrett, Campbell-Ryce & Harrold. As the game got underway, Preston started the brighter of the two teams with a couple of early chances snuffed out by the Southend central defensive pairing and then in the 7th minute Southend earned their first corner which was easily cleared. The game then settled down into a midfield battle with both Maher and McCormack eager to assert their authority onto the game. Preston then earned an undeserved corner in the 17th minute and it was also commented at this time on how lacking in desire "star-striker" Freddy Eastwood looked.

The Southend fans also then greeted former striker Michael Ricketts with a chorus of boos and other abuse as he emerged from the dugout to warm up or so they thought, as it turned out to be Ricketts lookey-likey Patrick Aygemang. When Ricketts finally did emerge he had a broad smile on his face and greeted the away support with a light-hearted gesture of his own.

In the 21st minute, Preston had the first on-target effort of the game with a low shot from Ormerod which Flahavan gathered easily. The home-team then earned another corner which led to a game of pinball in the Southend defence which the ball pinging off various players amid much confusion. This was finally cleared which led to a collective sigh of relief from the away fans. Southend then earned their second corner of the game after some great interchanges between Gower and Campbell-Ryce, although the set-piece again didn't net any rewards.

The home fans celebrated what they thought was the first goal of the game in the 29th minute as Sedgwick tucked the ball past Flahavan, but the decision was never in any doubt as the referee had already blown for a foul prior to the shot. Flahavan then punted a long ball up field and this was picked up by Eastwood who earned another corner for Southend, although again this was dealt with easily. Campbell-Ryce then had the away team's first effort on target which didn't really trouble Lonergan in the North-End goal. This spell of Southend pressure seemed to galvanise Preston as then Danny Pugh shot high and wide after a sublime piece of skill by Nugent. Southend then had another chance to open the scoring as Matt Harrold controlled well and then managed to get away a decent shot despite pressure from the Preston defenders, Eastwood couldn't change feet quick enough to pick up the rebound and, although pure speculation, was probably where he picked up an injury and was immediately replaced by January transfer window signing Richie Foran.

Five minutes before half-time, Southend captain Kevin Maher found the ball at his feet 20 yards out and unleashed a sublime looping shot past the despairing dive of Lonergan. As good as the finish was, it should not be underestimated the importance of the team in this goal as there were superb passing moves by Barrett, Campbell-Ryce & McCormack before Maher's shot. This was the cue for wild celebration amongst the away-fans although we all knew it was a long time until 3 points that nobody really expected were safe. The goal again spurred the home team into life and in 1st half stoppage time, there was a melee in the Southend penalty box which led to both Clarke & Sean St Ledger earning a talking to from the referee. A dubious offside advantage was then played in favour of Nugent who managed to get a shot away but Clarke blocked it for a Preston corner. Sedgwick again then shot closely over the Southend goal and the final action of the half saw Peter Clarke earn a booking for time-wasting. This did look a trifle harsh as he was only clearing a loose-ball and probably hadn't heard the whistle.

Overall Southend were generally solid in the first 45 minutes, with only a few relative shaky moments in the defence, although this may have been understandable having conceded seven relatively soft goals in the previous two games. The half was rounded off by a great goal by Captain Maher as well as a League Two style motivational celebration from Adam Barrett, both geeing up the team and the away support.
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