Southend United kick started their season with an impressive 3-0 win over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.
A blistering start from Blues was rewarded with goals from an O’Connell own goal, McLaughlin and Cox to give the visitors a three-goal advantage at the break.
The away side held strong in the second half to record a much deserved victory on the road.
Phil Brown made four changes for the trip to Bramall Lane with Thompson, O’Neill and King coming into the side. There was also a Blues debut for summer signing Ranger after recovering from a groin injury.
In opposition Chris Wilder named an unchanged squad from the 18 that drew 1-1 with Rochdale at the weekend.
The hosts fashioned the game’s first opportunity as an early corner parried out to Done on the edge. The midfielder hit one on the half volley that just went wide of the mark.
Basham went tumbling inside the box after four minutes, though the referee gave a free kick to Blues for simulation with no yellow card shown.
One minute later, Blues were on the attack as Demetriou zipped one down the line to O’Neill. The winger’s cross was deflected off O’Connell and looped over Long and into the net – Southend one-up after five minutes!
Nine minutes on the clock and Blues were close to having a superb second. Demetriou broke out and hit a rasping effort from 25-yards out which Long used a strong hand to tip over.
The Blades responded as Clarke narrowly headed wide from Fleck’s cross on 11 minutes. They were made to pay for that miss as Blues made it two on 13’.
Simon Cox used a burst of pace to get past the defender, rounding Long before teeing up McLaughlin to tap into an empty net.
What was good was about to get a whole lot better two minutes later. Ranger ran free down the right hand side before producing an inch-perfect pass across the box to his strike partner Cox to fire Blues into a three goal lead!
Bramall Lane was stunned, though it has to be said Blues were deserving of their advantage after coming out the traps so well.
A sour note to the evening saw Ranger limp off the field on 25 minutes after starting the game magnificently. Blues’ Number 50 was replaced by Mooney.
Soon after Sheffield United were showing further defensive frailties as O’Neil’s cross was almost turned goalwards by Brayford just missing the right-hand post.
Sheffield United looked in search of a route back into the match though the defence looked strong – Barrett putting in a number of crucial interceptions before the half-hour mark.
Leonard then provided a superb last gasp clearance with Sheffield United pressing from the corner on 36 minutes.
Thompson was the first to go into the referee’s notebook shortly before half time as the defender collided with Sharp.
Southend looked most likely to add to their tally in the five minutes of added time - O’Neill cross headed wide by Mooney as the striker struggled to make a significant contact.
Half Time: Sheffield United 0-3 Southend United
Southend came out for the second period knowing that they would have to weather a storm with Chapman brought on for Done on the wing.
It was Blues who would have the first real opportunity after the restart though, as Cox hit over after being played down the channel.
Blades fans thought they had found a way back into the match on 50 minutes as Duffy laid it back to Sharp in the box. From first glance it looked as if the striker’s first time shot had nestled into the bottom left corner but it had actually sneaked just past the post.
Tensions were running high as the home side desperately looked for an opening. Thompson, already on a booking, received a final warning after tangling with Basham.
Next to go into the notebook of Geoff Eltringham was Coker and Sharp as the former pulled the latter down outside the box. Sharp took offence to the challenge and the pair squared up. Once the melee was over, Hussey hit wide with the free kick.
Looking dangerous from a set piece, Blues went close as Mooney sent a looping header back across after a free kick from O’Neill from deep. Long was on hand to collect this time though on 62’.
Back came the hosts, and probably more out of hope than certainty the Bramall Lane crowd appealed for a penalty as Sharp went down in the box after Thompson showed strength as the ball was pumped into the area on 69’ – Nothing given.
Southend showed their metal as excellent defending from Barrett saw him head the ball away as Sharp lurked in the box with just under 20 minutes to go.
The Blades were now committing further bodies leaving them with the potential to be exposed at the back.
After putting in a great shift up top, Cox was replaced by Atkinson on 76’ in an attempt to put some further fuel in the midfield engine as Southend looked to see this one out.
Southend managed to nullify their opponents as the game ran out of time - Southend taking all three points in a solid performance to ensure their season reached lift off!
SOUTHEND XI | Oxley, Demetriou, Thompson, Barrett (c), Coker, O'Neill, Leonard, King, McLaughlin, Ranger, Cox.
SUBS | White, Mooney, Atkinson, Smith, Bridge, McGlashan, Williams
Sheffield United | Long, Brayford, Hussey, Fleck, O'Connell, Basham, Sharp, Done, Wilson, Duffy, Clarke.
SUBS | McNulty, Scougall, Ramsdale, Wright, Coutts, Freeman, Chapman.
Attendance: 17,410 (269 Blues Fans)