Southend United climbed out of the relegation zone thanks to a battling 0-0 draw away at the League Two leaders Cambridge United at the Abbey Stadium.
Both sides had good chances to score with Cambridge having an effort from Adam May sting the palms of Mark Oxley in the first-half, while some last-ditch defending was needed to prevent Simeon Akinola and Ashley Nathaniel-George from scoring in the second-half, just two of the 13 attempts on the U's goal in total that Molesley's men created in the contest.
The two sides, though, shared the spoils in freezing conditions, with the point enough to see Blues climb out of the drop-zone for the first time since Southend drew 2-2 with Exeter City back on the 10th of October.
A second successive clean-sheet and four points from two tough away games against Newport County and Cambridge – both of whom are fighting for promotion – was arguably the perfect response from Mark Molesley’s side after a recent poor run.
The Blues boss made three changes this afternoon for the visit to Cambridge as Simeon Akinola, Emile Acquah and Kyle Taylor all came in, replacing Greg Halford, Reeco Hackett-Fairchild and Jason Demetriou who all dropped to the bench.
Cambridge’s ground staff had worked wonders to defy the elements and get the game on in below-freezing temperatures and the league leaders were first to create a chance on goal at the bitterly cold Abbey Stadium as Joe Ironside headed straight at Mark Oxley three minutes in.
Blues were looking to build on their superb win in midweek against Newport and almost took the lead in comical circumstances as Oxley’s free-kick into the Cambridge box needed tipping over by the crossbar by U’s goalkeeper Callum Burton.
Southend though would show more of their attacking threat, especially down the right, with Ashley Nathaniel-George and Elvis Bwomono linking well with the former having more than a shout for a penalty waved away after being brought down by Jack Iredale.
Bwomono fizzed a couple of dangerous balls into the box, one of which didn’t quite stick to Acquah, with the other needing a last-ditch intervention from Jubril Okedina to prevent Akinola tapping in as Southend pushed for the game’s first goal.
The home side finished the half the stronger and created a couple of decent opportunities with Adam May stinging the palms of Oxley with a shot across goal before some superb defending from John White stopped Ironside from scoring at the near post.
After the restart, Blues created their best opening of the game when Kyle Taylor got space on the left to play a low ball into the box. Akinola’s first-time strike though was blocked by the U’s defence, as was Nathaniel-George’s rebound as Cambridge scrambled it clear.
Cambridge responded to that threat by going close themselves moments later when top-scorer Paul Mullin carried the ball across the face of the 18-yard box before finally getting his shot away only for it to take a deflection and go harmlessly wide.
With 20 minutes remaining, Mark Molesley showed his attacking intent by bringing on Reeco Hackett-Fairchild for Taylor, allowing Akinola to push into a more forward position alongside Acquah upfront as they went in search of a potentially match-winning goal.
Up the other end, Southend were showing all the fighting spirit that underpinned their 1-0 win at Newport in midweek, restricting Cambridge while also creating chances of their own with Acquah hitting the side-netting with a strike as well as Akinola heading over following a corner.
Five minutes of added on time were shown at the end of the game with a goal now for either side almost guaranteed to earn them all three minutes. Neither team though could find the breakthrough as Southend earnt the point they needed to climb out of the relegation zone.
Cambridge United XI: Burton, Knoyle, Iredale, Taylor (C), Drysdale, Hannant, Mullin, Hoolahan (O’Neil 90+3’), Okedina, May (Tracey 66’), Ironside. Subs Not Used: McKenzie-Lyle, Alese, Davies, Knibbs, Wormon
Blues XI: Oxley, Bwomono, Hobson, Dieng, Akinola (Goodship 87’), Clifford, Acquah, Nathaniel-George, K Taylor (Hackett-Fairchild 70'), Ferguson, White (C). Subs Not Used: Seaden, Cordner, Halford, Demetriou, Hart
Referee: Ross Joyce
Assistants: Matthew Smith & Nicholas Cooper
Fourth Official: Michael Webb
Cambridge United: None
Southend United: None
Cambridge United: Adam May 41’, Jubril Okedina 85’, Paul Mullin 89’
Southend United: John White 45+2’