Fan’s View 2017/18 (no.46) – Southend at home

Article by Paul Beasley

OXFORD UNITED 2 SOUTHEND UNITED 0

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Given our remaining fixtures, if we’d not won this one I think there would have been a significant increase in the numbers within our fan base fearing league trips to Newport and Forest Green Rovers next season. The job is still not quite done because whilst 50 points usually guarantees survival, that might well not be the case this time around. The other results didn’t fall too unkindly for us either but we’re still very much involved in that mad scramble to get away from position no.21.

Bury have now gone and by conceding in the 88th minute gave Northampton a win. The maximum the Cobblers can achieve though is still only 52. The maximum MK Dons can reach is just two more having lost at home to Donny despite leading at half-time.

An injury time penalty denied Oldham two points and they’re now right in it with just 46 pts although they do have a game in hand. The same applies to Rochdale who are a point further back but their form indicates they will stay up.

It would have been a bit more helpful if Walsall v Wimbledon had remained at 2-2 but another stoppage time penalty gave all three points to the Wombles. Both these sides are now genuinely below us though and here’s to it staying that way.

All this shows how tense the whole situation is. The pressure on the players must be immense but there does seem to be a belief that has clearly been lacking in many earlier games.

That they got the job done here is commendable with the performance put in being worthy of three points. I’m not sure we were two goals better than the Shrimpers though and I didn’t think we played any better than we did against the Cod Army who were the better of these two opponents. But winning is everything.

Scoring early on isn’t something we usually do but what a pleasant surprise it was to go a goal up as early as the 6th minute. At the time I thought Ryan Ledson’s header had gone in but from so far away I’m doing no more than guessing and even with the benefit of having seen replays am none the wiser.

Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves we kept the ball live in the final third. The visitors were guilty of dawdling defensively and then being ineffectual when James Henry turned on the touch line and got between two blue shirts and into the box before shooting low across keeper Mark Oxley and in by the far post. He’s now got eight league goals and is just two behind Wes Thomas.

Although this obviously didn’t raise the pressure levels, I remained on edge and stayed that way even when we got a second in the 4th minute of the time referee Darren Handley deemed needed adding before the break.

If a neutral had to pick out a player in Oxford colours to recommend to a friend as being “worth watching” that man would surely be Ricardinho. There hasn’t been much joy this season but there have been a few times when the Brazilian has been a delight to observe.

Countless times he gets forward and here he was again driving down the touch line and then playing a perfectly weighted side foot pass to Jon Obika. Big credit too to our striker. He’s been criticised for not making runs but he did in this move and had pointed where he wanted the ball played. A few rolling drag backs later the ball had been returned to Ricardinho who had continued his run and got goal side of his potential marker and thus into a dangerous position. His second touch was a shot at goal from an angle where he had no right to score. Oxley appeared to have set himself correctly to stop it but then unset himself and let it through his legs.

That brought much relief and as we kept our second clean sheet in three home games we were able to slightly relax in our seats.

To have added more goals would have been icing on the cake but as long as we don’t collapse in any of our remaining away fixtures to the biggest of boys, our goal difference should remain superior to those below us, except perhaps Rochdale.

We did come very close to getting those extra goals on many occasions and with Southend’s woeful finishing and a very good effort from Dru Yearwood that hit the post also taken into account, it could have been a much higher scoring match than it turned out.

Karl Robinson is getting the side to play his way and they must be under instruction to shoot a lot more than under Pep. I’m all for that but not to the exclusion of all else. When there’s no chance of scoring, having a pop with a defender stood just in front of the shooter usually just means possession is lost. It would also help if some demonstrated a better technique. Blazing over with the body set all wrong isn’t much use either.

There was also much more direct forward running with the ball and there was a period in the second half when we were going at the Southend defence and produced proper sustained pressure. This isn’t something I’ve recently associated with matches at the Kasstad. Very likeable it was and we also kept enough men back so as not to get caught out.

Another improvement was the quality of our dead balls and Cameron Brannagan’s delivery from the corner flag did not go unnoticed. For once a defence had to work hard to keep us out.

At the other end Simon Eastwood came for the high crosses and as far as I remember got every one. He also made a couple of very important saves, one of which was a point blank reaction save from Simon Cox.

There were times when the back line didn’t get the ball away when required and almost certainly would have been punished by a better side. That said, I’m not getting the jitters now whenever the ball is launched towards our goal. Rob Dickie continues to grow and there was no monumental cock up from John Mousinho which made a pleasant change. He too had a pretty good game and came close to getting on the score sheet more than once.

Todd Kane was steady again and I’ve already sung the praises of the other full-back. Ricardinho has to only play one more game to trigger the extension clause in his contract. He’s not going to improve at his age but if he were to do in 2018/19 as he has done in 2017/18 I’ll not complain.

For all the improvement at the back, our defensive record is still the joint 18th worst in the league with an average of 1.476 goals conceded per game.

The midfield now has a better shape and more competitive edge to it and this applies even when we make a change or two to the personnel there. Brannagan and Ledson are both battlers but I have to say I was a touch disappointed with Alex Mowatt’s contribution. He wasn’t as sharp as the others and didn’t have a great deal of influence on the game that I could detect.

This was another game in which our strikers didn’t strike and we had two of them on the park. This doesn’t mean they had poor games. I thought Jon Obika had one of his better games. I might have said it before but again his legs seemed to move about all over the place as if he doesn’t know where they’re going to go. If he doesn’t know what chance a defender working out what he’s up to? A bit of the George Lawrences here I thought.

There were occasions when Thomas should have done better, a bit of mis-control here and failure to play the ball quickly out wide to a colleague in acres of space there, but if anyone bothers to watch him carefully he brings a lot of good stuff too. Once more I spotted him getting the ball away when we were defending set pieces and he’s always there in the danger area waiting to pounce when others are about to shoot. I’ve not yet dismissed the idea that he can get a tap in or two before the end of the season.

I keep coming back to stats but can’t get away from the fact that we’ve got the 7th best goals per game ratio of 1.357 per game and that’s without scoring in the three matches prior to this.

Unlike us, Southend were forced to make two substitutions early on. Two defenders were replaced before 30 minutes were on the clock. This would not have done our cause any damage.

Our changes were all kept for the end of the game. We saw a few minutes of Gino Van Kessel’s bullying strength and even less of Agon Mehmeti. It was though the first substitution in the 80th minute that had most of the crowd on their feet. This was a sight that for a long time we thought we wouldn’t see this season. Welcome back Curtis Nelson. What encouraging news this was. A slip and a bit of mis-timing can be forgiven; it will take time.

As we won I should perhaps close without mention of the performance of the officials but it’s just too tempting not to. I’m at a loss to know how we managed to pick up three yellow cards yet not one Southend player’s name was noted in Handley’s book. Yes Ledson went in wholeheartedly but he got there first and won the ball and I remember a challenge where we thought that the visitors could be reduced to ten men but it would probably be a yellow. Nothing. At least that’s how I saw it.

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Ryan Ledson. Photo, Simon Jaggs

Before I sign off three more quick points.

Had I missed something regarding the away supporters? Their season is all but over so 776 was a very good turnout. I didn’t notice any sign of an organised end of season party thing going on, after all they’ve still got two away days to come. Over the years I have no memory of their fans causing trouble at Oxford so why was there more police about than usual and that steel barricade in operation?

The home fans again deserve much praise for the atmosphere and from what I witnessed positive backing throughout. Something is stirring again in the East Stand. Perhaps the whole football club is about to stir once again.

For various reasons I decided to get the train into Oxford and walked from the station to the stadium via a pub or three. This made it a bit like an away game where you can pick up the vibe of the area visited. I was reminded what a great city ours is. This walk also brought home to me that the football club and the city are very different entities. Admittedly I didn’t go in the Covered Market but I saw no hint anywhere that a football match was to take place at 3 o’clock just four miles away. Come to think of it that’s probably the way it is everywhere but wouldn’t it be quite lucrative to capture a bit more of the tourist market whilst visitors are almost on site?

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