REPORT | Southend 2-4 Sheffield United
SOUTHEND UNITED’S 13-game unbeaten league run came crashing to an end as the Blues were soundly beaten 4-2 by league leaders Sheffield United at Roots Hall.
The visitors looked much the better side in the opening 15 minutes and took an early lead through the head of Ethan Ebanks-Landell.
After weathering an early storm Simon Cox brought the Blues level with his 99th career goal but Sheffield United went into the break in front after Jack O’Connell was found unmarked at the back-post to volley in from close range.
The second half was one of few chances but Sheffield United made the win safe with two goals in four minutes securing the points with Caolan Lavery and Kieron Freeman scoring in the final 20 minutes to send the travelling Blades home happy.
Jermaine McGlashan grabbed what would only be a consolation goal for the Blues as he scored in the 88th minute but it wasn’t enough to prevent Sheffield United recording their 6th straight win.
With that result went Southend’s unbeaten league record which had stretched back to October 8th and a 3-0 defeat on the road against next weekend’s opponents, Rochdale.
Phil Brown made just the one change from the side that drew 0-0 with Swindon Town on January 2nd with Nile Ranger coming in for Jermaine McGlashan as the Blues went for three up front against the league leaders.
But Southend made the worst possible start as they fell behind within three minutes after a slip from Jason Demetriou led to a corner for the visitors. The corner ended up at the feet of Mark Duffy wide on the left whose cross into the box was guided into the bottom corner by the head of Ethan Ebanks-Landell.
In the reverse fixture at Bramall Lane back in August, Southend scored three goals inside the first 15 minutes on their way to a 3-0 win and Sheffield United were unfortunate not to go 2-0 up inside the first 12 at Roots Hall as Kieron Freeman ran clear only to poke wide from close range.
Having looked second best in the opening exchanges Southend brought themselves level when Simon Cox scored his 99th career goal after 19 minutes. Demetriou picked out the Blues striker on the edge of the area who drilled low between the legs of Ebanks-Landell to find the bottom corner.
The home side were now in the ascendency and Anthony Wordsworth almost pulled off a cracker of a strike with a half-volley from the edge of the area which had to be tipped over the bar by Simon Moore.
Moore was again called into action as Southend swept forward with Cox forcing a save low to the ‘keeper’s left and a lovely bill of trickery from Will Atkinson afforded him space to hit a low shot which was well held by Moore on the slippery Roots Hall surface.
Before the game all eyes would have been on the league’s top-scorer, Billy Sharp, and he was almost gifted a goal by the Blues when Wordsworth’s back-pass to Ted Smith fell short, with Smith doing brilliantly well to come away with the ball under the challenge of Sharp.
But Sheffield United did retake the lead just before the half time interval after Anton Ferdinand gave away a free kick deep on the right-hand side. Duffy’s free kick was whipped into the far post, finding Jack O’Connell who volleyed past Smith from point-blank range.
Going into the second half the next goal in this game was going to be vital to determining where the points were headed and Sheffield United pressed for a game-winning third goal without creating anything clear in front of goal.
Southend were looking to cause the Blades problems down the flanks and Phil Brown reverted a traditional 4-4-2 formation by bringing on Jermaine McGlashan for Marc-Antoine Fortune on the hour mark.
Leon Clarke was brought on for the Blades and he got into a good scoring position but blazed over from inside the area before Sheffield’s new-signing Samir Carruthers was brought into the fray after signing in the week from MK Dons.
And with less than 20 minutes remaining Sheffield United made the points safe as they scored twice in four minutes to snap the Blues’ unbeaten league run.
The Blades’ third came when a low cross from Freeman caused all sorts of problems at the back and after his first stab at goal was blocked, Coalan Lavery found the back of the net with his second effort in front of the 1,450 travelling Sheffield United fans.
And four minutes later the points were wrapped up when Freeman, who created the third goal with his cross, slid behind the Southend back line to calmly beat Smith to help Sheffield United extend their lead at the top of League One to four points.
In the final minutes the home side did manage to grab themselves a consolation as substitute McGlashan saw his deflected shot beat Moore and Cox almost made it a nervy finish when, in injury time, he smashed the cross bar. But it was too little, too late as Southend remain 7th.
Blues XI | Smith, Wordsworth, Thompson, Timlin, Cox, Atkinson (Hines 72’), Fortune (McGlashan 60’), Leonard, Demetriou, Ferdinand (C), Ranger. Subs Not Used: White, O’Neill, Bridge, Kyprianou, Bexon
Sheffield United XI | Moore, Fleck, O’Connell, Basham, Lavery, Sharp (C), Coutts, Freeman, Ebanks-Landell, Duffy (Carruthers 68’ (Scougall 82’)), Lafferty (Done 56’). Subs Not Used: McNulty, Ramsdale, Wright, Clarke
Referee: Andy Davies
Assistants: Dan Cook & Matthew McGrath
Fourth Official: Brett Huxtable
Southend United: Simon Cox 19’, Jermaine McGlashan 88’
Sheffield United: Ethan Ebanks-Landell 3’, Jack O’Connell 42’, Caolan Lavery 72’, Kieron Freeman 76’
Southend United: Simon Cox 45+1’, Will Atkinson 54’
Sheffield United: Kieron Freeman 53’, Chris Basham 67’