Southend United’s fighting spirit, work rate, and endeavour was rewarded with a well-earned point on the road against Fleetwood Town in Kevin Bond’s first game in charge.
Blues took the lead twice, first through Harry Bunn’s precise finish from close range and then late on from Luke Hyam’s rifled effort, his first since joining last summer, but Ched Evans cancelled out both, arguably undeserved, to earn his side a share of the spoils.
Fleetwood pushed for a winner, but again Blues rose to the challenge and showed the sort of characteristics that is required in their challenge to stay in League One, and which will impress the brilliant 200-plus supporters who made the long trip to Lancashire; again our supporters proved to be some of the best in the EFL and were, thankfully, rewarded.
Having won their last two, Fleetwood knew that to stay in with a chance of sneaking into the play-off places they needed to win this match. But despite their best efforts Blues matched them punch for punch, and better!
Southend travelled to Highbury Stadium having never tasted defeat on the Fylde coast and Blues’ first decent opportunity came a little over a quarter of an hour in when Simon Cox got into a good position only to drag his shot wide. It was clear to see how much more intensity there was about the side and that was resulting in some good attacking moves, one which was to pay off greatly not long after.
Bond’s side upped the ante further and went in front when a wayward back header from Ross Wallace was picked off by Cox. The striker teed up Michael Kightly whose shot was blocked into the air and into the path of Harry Bunn who placed the ball out the reach of Fleetwood’s goalkeeper, into the bottom corner to put Southend 1-0 in front.
It was the least Southend deserved after an opening 45 minutes of virtual dominance that our fans didn’t want to end. There was a greatly-improved attacking threat compared to recent weeks from Blues against a side that were still hoping to make the play-offs, and their supremacy in the first half was demonstrated quite simply by Joey Barton’s double substitution at half-time as Hunter and Nadesan entered the fray.
Fleetwood did improve in the second half and Nathan Bishop excellently denied Paddy Madden with his outstretched foot, showing his goalkeeping prowess. Just before the hour mark Fleetwood equalised when Nadesan slipped the ball into the feet of Evans inside the box before firing home.
Neither side were going to settle for a point and Ashley Eastham had a great chance to head Fleetwood in front from a free-kick but his attempt lacked power. Blues immediately broke and substitute Stephen Humphrys, a welcome return to the squad and off the bench for the first time since his awful facial injuries suffered against Accrington Stanley, had a chance on the edge of the area which was deflected wide. Humphrys, sporting his mask for the first time, was showing no ill-effects as he got up to win a header with his first touch.
Late on Southend then won themselves a free-kick wide on the left, and with Blues throwing bodies forward they were rewarded by retaking the lead. The set-piece fell to Jason Demetriou whose blocked shot was straight into the path of Luke Hyam who hammered the ball home from inside the penalty area to once again restore the advantage and spark wild jubilation from Blues loyal supporters.
But it was short-lived as Evans converted from the penalty spot after Paddy Madden was fouled, albeit not deliberate, and which was tough on our players.
Six minutes of additional time were shown and, despite a series of set-pieces for the home side, Southend held firm for a point which they duly deserved and one which could be a vital one come the end of the season.
There were many more positives to take away which would’ve delighted the loyal Southend supporters watching their side for the first time under new management with impressive performances from the likes of Hyam and Rob Kiernan, who flourished in a new-look midfield position.
The duo looked calm and composed on the ball, with an eye for a pass, coupled with the steeliness required to win back possession and experience to maintain the team’s shape when without that ball. It looked like a pairing that could be instrumental in the final five games of the season.
Fleetwood Town XI: Cairns, Coyle, Burns, Evans (C), Souttar, Madden, Wallace, Husband, Biggins (Nadesan 46’), Sowerby (Eastham 69’), Rydel (Hunter 46’). Subs Not Used: Jones, Sheron, Baggley, Hill
Blues XI: Bishop, Hyam, Kightly, Cox, Kiernan, Mantom (Dieng 81’), Demetriou (C), Lennon, Bunn (Humphrys 69’), Hart (Bwomono 89’), White. Subs Not Used: Oxley, Yearwood, Moore, Kelman
Referee: P Wright
Assistants: G Fyvie & G Hilton
Fourth Official: I Dudley
Fleetwood Town: Ched Evans 59’, (p)84’
Southend United: Harry Bunn 21’, Luke Hyam 81’
Fleetwood Town: Harry Souttar 38’, Wes Burns 55’, Ashley Hunter 80’
Southend United: Luke Hyam 78’, John White 90+3’
Attendance: TBC (TBC Away)