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Blue tinted optimist
Oct 28, 2003
Cloud cuckoo land
Saturday August 24 1996 was one of my most depressing days as a Blues supporter since 1969. We were unceremoniously thumped 5-0 at Oxford's Manor Ground in what was one of the most uncommitted and pathetic displays I have ever seen from a Southend team. Fences were still up and I think the players were grateful as otherwise there was a real danger they would have been lynched.

Although we have of course played (and beaten) Oxford since, yesterday finally laid that particular ghost to rest as Southend put in one the the most impressive footballing performances I have seen for years.

However, it wasn't all plain sailing. After an opening 10 minutes where Oxford could hardly get the ball out of their half, they started to dominate proceedings. The 3-5-2 formation was stifling the Southend midfield and Maher, Hunt and Pettefer were not given any time to settle by their hard working visitors, who chased everything and refused to allow Southend to play. Then, they started to create a few chances of their own. Roget thumped the bar from a header on 15 minutes and Wilson cleared off the line from a Mooney shot with Bart well beaten.

However, with 5 minutes of an otherwise ordinary first half left, the Southend attack sprang to life. Eastwood made space brilliantly down the right and hammered the ball across goal. The keeper could only parry it out, and the ball found Gower, whose first effort was blocked and the follow up went narrowly wide. Minutes later Fredy tried an ambitious scissor-type kick but put the ball onto the South stand roof. Still, at half time the score was 0-0, and you have to say that Blues were probably fortunate. It wasn't that they hadn't played well; it's just that Oxford had not allowed them to play well.

Within 2 minutes of the second half starting, the game changed completely. Southend again started the better, and a deep cross was completely missed by a defender, and Gower was left unmarked in the area to shoot past the veteran 44 year old keeper, Alan Judge.

From then on Blues dominated proceedings. They decided to play the ball more on the deck and the tall Oxford defence became less effective as a result. Gray was again a constant thorn in the side of the visitors, Roget in particular, whom he skinned time and time again. Eastwood, who had perhaps tried too hard in the first half, found his touch and started to impress. The impressive but tired (and possibly injured) Gower was replaced by an eager Bentley who immediately rattled a few Oxford cages. But at 1-0, and with Blues defensive record, the game is never safe. Oxford briefly got into the game and a superb 6 or 7 man move resulted in E'beyer striking the post with a low drive. The stage of course was now set for another Rawle return and he was brought off the bench after 72 minutes. Most fans, like me, probably thought that he would grab the equaliser at least. Fredy however hadn't read the script. Within 2 minutes he received the ball outside the box, went past 3 opponents and into the right hand corner of the penalty area. He clearly terrified the defence who had backed off him, allowing him the time to assess his options, see that there wasn't really anything on pass-wise, and then deliver an absolute thunderbolt of a left foot shot into the top corner of the net. The Hall, as you may imagine, erupted, and the visiting fans started leaving in their droves.

From then on Blues turned on the style and Oxford fell apart. A maher free kick was headed in by Adam Barrett, and more Oxford fans departed. Then, with 10 minutes to go, the fabulously impressive strike duo of Eastwood and Gray were subbed to a standing ovation. How's this for a replacement; Dudfield and Bramble. A pairing on their own that, until a few weeks ago, many thought to be our best and certainly one good enough to rank with any in this wretched division. For a bruised and battered Oxford there was no let up. Bentley set the energetic Dudfield away and he took the ball into the box and was bundled over by Ashton, who was booked for the second time for giving away the spot kick. There was some confusion as he seemed to dispute the fact that he had to walk, and the 4th official had to intervene. But after an age, Dudfield took the kick himself straight down the middle.

In injury time, the visitors made a rare trip towards the Southend goal and won a free kick in a very dangerous position 20 yards out. Your correspondent had wagered a small amount (£2) at William Hill on a correct score of 4-1, so had a moral dilemma of wanting Blues to keep the clean sheet or collecting £66. Money or clean sheet? Money or clean sheet? Hmmm... hell, it's only money... clean sheet please. The otherwise impressive Tommy Mooney (who was head and shoulders their best player and clearly too good for this league) duly obliged and found row C of the South Upper.

Shortly afterwards the referee put Oxford out of their misery which was a shame, as this was one game that you didn't want to end.

The Southend bandwagon rolls on, and is gathering momentum. The next 3 league games will really show how far we have progressed as a side this season as we visit Yeovil and Bury with a Grimsby home game sandwiched in between. But first bring on Luton and the cameras in the cup. They warmed up with an impressive 5-1 demolition of destitute Wrexham. What odds a 0-0 anyone?


Griemink - 7. Coped well enough with everything. Distribution good apart from 2 misplaced goal kicks in the second half. A clean sheet kept, the first since Kidderminster 8 games ago. And to be fair, I never felt that we were in any danger. Because of the command of his area, we were able to defend slightly higher and keep Oxford further away from the goal.

Jupp - 8. Much improved and his best performance since West Ham away. I note he also made the league 2 "Team of the Day" in Football First (along with 3 other Blues and Tilly who was "Manager of the Week"). One of several contenders for MOM.
Barrett - 8. Another strong display who for me is one of the buys of the season. Another team of the day selection and MOM contender. Capped the performance with a goal.
Prior - 8. Commanding, inspiring and everything you want from an experienced centre half.
Wilson - 7.5. Much improved and a goalline clearance (well, maybe it was going wide - couldn't be 100% certain) kept us in it.

Pettefer - 7.5. Started slowly and really put the effort in more as the game went on. His fitness level is awesome and he just keeps going. It's he shame he lacks that little extra pace to be able to go past defenders.
Maher - 7.5. Got caught in possession a few times in the first half but got really involved in the second half and improved as the game went on.
Hunt - 7.5. In the Team of the Day (surprisingly IMHO) but to be honest, although he wasn't a weak link, the level of everyone else's performance made him less outstanding than he has been lately. Got into scoring positions a few times and showed why he is primarily a defender.
Gower - 9. May be controversial but for the, the MOM. This was Gower at his best. He was on fire in the first half when the rest of the team were struggling slightly and Oxford were stopping us playing. He missed the last 20 mins when Oxford had fallen apart and therefore would have been easier to impress. Another goal and I really hope he wasn't injured.

Gray - 8.5. This guy has the potential to become one of the Southend all-time favourites. His work rate is phenomenal and he causes problems all afternoon for the opposition. Best crosser of a ball we have had in years and also capable of scoring as well.
Eastwood - 8.5. Football First MOM with a 9 and final Team of the Day selection. The only reason I haven't given it to him was based on the first half performance when his touch seemed to let him down a bit. As I said, it looked as though he was trying that little bit too hard. Then he scores one of the goals of the season. There was also one occasion when he ball watched and allowed the midfielder a clear run away from him and I'm sure Tilly will want him to improve that side of his game. But what the hell! We are going to make a lot of money from this lad.


Bentley - 7. Had 20 minutes and looked hungry. Made the 4th goal and got stuck in.
Bramble - 6. Didn't really get much of the ball.
Dudfield - 7. Usual Dudds - chasing, harrying, closing and the won (and scored) the penalty.