Southend United and Exeter City were made to settle for a point apiece at St. James Park as Blues drew 0-0 against the Grecians.
Both sides hit the woodwork with Reeco Hackett-Fairchild seeing his deflected effort smack the crossbar in the first-half before sub Nigel Atangana smashed the ball against the post in second-half stoppage time after a superb save from Mark Oxley.
The draw narrowed the gap to Colchester United to three points ahead of The U’s game with Walsall this afternoon, with only four games remaining between now and the end of the season.
Tomorrow will have marked six years since Blues’ last visit to the St. James Park, a memorable afternoon in 2015 which ended with Michael Timlin’s injury-time winner securing Southend a vital win in their race for promotion.
Phil Brown was the manager that day and he was hoping his present-day side could replicate that vital win with another much-needed victory this afternoon with the Southend boss making four changes to the line-up that drew 0-0 with Crawley last weekend.
Originally it was just the three changes, as John White, Simeon Akinola and Louis Walsh – making his first Southend start – came in, before Tom Clifford got injured in the warm-up and was replaced by Sam Hart to round off the changes.
It was a game both teams needed to win for differing reasons with Exeter fighting for a place in the play-offs, but it was a scrappy affair in the early going down in Devon though the home side did have the best of the few early chances with Ryan Bowman and Alex Hartridge going close.
Southend’s struggles in front of goal have been well documented, but they were desperately unlucky not to open the scoring just before the half-hour mark when a mazy run from Reeco Hackett-Fairchild ended with his shot being deflected onto the face of the crossbar.
Things began to open as the half played out and Exeter went close when Jake Taylor’s looping header needed clearing off the line by Elvis Bwomono. From the follow-up, Jack Sparkes stung the palms of Mark Oxley from a tight angle.
And in first-half stoppage time, Southend had a glorious chance from a corner when Ricky Holmes’ set-piece dropped inside the six-yard box. Shaun Hobson swung a leg at it and completely missed the ball when any sort of contact would have likely resulted in a goal.
Blues didn’t let that missed chance phase them though as they went close within 45 seconds of the restart when Hart’s free-kick to the far post picked out Nathan Ferguson whose header across goal went narrowly wide.
The visitors continued to show their attacking intent with Jason Demetriou fizzing a shot at Jokull Andresson that he was unable to hold onto, and the Grecians stopper was needed again to keep out Akinola’s flicked header which he tipped wide.
Having weathered the Southend storm, Exeter began to turn the tables and created a couple of good openings of their own with Bowman heading a Matt Jay cross over before a cross from the left bounced around inside the area only for Hartridge’s effort to be deflected wide.
Both sides threw everything they could forward to try and find a winner in the closing stages with Oxley needing to be at his best to keep out substitute Nigel Atangana who’d snuck in at the far post and saw his shot tipped onto the post and over by Oxley.
There was still time for Southend to carve out a late chance too when James Olayinka broke into the box and forced a smart save from Andresson in a frenetic stoppage time but neither side were able to break the deadlock as Blues picked up another 0-0 draw.
Exeter City XI: Andresson, Caprice, Sparkes (Sweeney 87’), McArdle, Taylor (C) (Atangana 87’), Collins, Williams (Key 75’), Bowman, Jay (Seymour 87’), Page (Willmott 55’), Hartridge. Subs Not Used: Maxted, Parkes
Blues XI: Oxley, Bwomono, Hobson, Akinola (Goodship 72’), Hackett-Fairchild, Demetriou, Holmes (Olayinka 76’), Walsh (McCormack 89’), Hart, Ferguson, White (C). Subs Not Used: Seaden, Cordner, Halford, Egbri
Referee: Darren Drysdale
Assistants: Christopher Husband & Daniel Flynn
Fourth Official: Brett Huxtable
Exeter City: None
Southend United: None
Exeter City: Lewis Page 45’
Southend United: Louis Walsh 38’