Southend United survived almost the entire second-half with 10 men to earn a huge 1-0 win against Barrow as Reeco Hackett-Fairchild’s debut goal won Blues the three points at Roots Hall.
The Portsmouth loanee scored in just the third minute to give the home side an early lead, coming in from the right to curl a beautiful goal into the bottom corner from 20-yards out – the perfect gift for his 23rd birthday.
Blues though had to play most of the second period with 10 men after Greg Halford received a second bookable offence but Southend dug deep and limited Barrow to only a handful of chances while arguably having the better of the second-half chances up the other end.
The final whistle came nine minutes into stoppage time as Southend secured a vital three points - the first time since April 2015 that Blues have won four successive home games - putting them within a point of safety while Barrow remain in 20th a point above the drop-zone.
Thanks to last weekend’s game at Newport being postponed, it meant that this afternoon’s clash with Barrow was Blues’ opening fixture of 2021 and it was the first time that these two sides had met in almost 50 years since Barrow beat Southend 2-1 back in 1972.
Southend won promotion that season while Barrow were voted out of the Football League altogether and today’s meeting was arguably just as significant to both sides who were battling it out towards the bottom of the League Two table.
Mark Molesley made two changes to the side that lost to Leyton Orient. In came Greg Halford in at the back while new signing Reeco Hackett-Fairchild made his debut on his 23rd birthday and the birthday boy made an immediate impact by giving Blues an early lead.
Less than three minutes had passed when the forward picked the ball up on the right-wing, cutting onto his left foot before curling a delightful effort beyond the dive of Joel Dixon from 20-yards out to give the home side the perfect start.
Visitors Barrow came into today unbeaten in their last three games and they responded well with Mark Oxley pulling off a wonderful fingertip save to prevent Luke James levelling matters, tipping the Barrow man’s effort over the crossbar.
Blues would head into the break a goal to the good, although there was a flurry of chances for both sides before the interval. The best of which fell to Elvis Bwomono who got played into the box by Timothee Dieng only for Dixon to get down well to smother his effort.
Early into the second-half though and Southend were reduced to 10 men as Halford saw red for a second bookable offence. Having been already been booked for a late challenge on Josh Kay, Halford was late again on Scott Quigley resulting in him receiving his marching orders.
Molesley’s side were now up against it but they had a glorious chance to double their lead and give themselves some daylight as James Olyainka broke clean through, but under pressure from Tom Beadling, Olayinka couldn’t get his shot away before Simeon Akinola fired over.
Despite the man disadvantage, Blues again had a great chance to score when Olayinka was picked out by a measured ball over the top by Deing only for the Arsenal-loanee’s touch to let him down at the vital moment as Barrow cleared their lines.
With 20 minutes remaining, the Bluebirds replaced a full-back for a striker as Dior Angus came on to try and force their way through to an equaliser and the substitute had a decent chance to level when he was found with a cross from the left but could only head over.
Southend remained resilient and had yet another chance to kill the game off as sub Ashley Nathaniel-George went on a mazy run which landed at fellow sub Alan McCormack’s feet, but the experienced midfielder could only stab his effort off target.
Barrow were always going to get chances late on and they saw a free-kick from Kay hit the wall before James appealed vehemently for a penalty for a foul by Sam Hart that wasn’t given. James then received the ball with space to pull off a shot that was deflected clear.
Blues had seven minutes added on at the end to survive and try as they might, Barrow couldn’t get through as Southend continued to defend brilliantly with the final whistle finally going in the ninth minute of stoppage time to earn Southend as massive three points.
Blues XI: Oxley, Bwomono, Hobson, Olayinka (R Taylor 81’), Dieng, Akinola (Nathaniel-George 81’), Hackett-Fairchild (McCormack 61’), Halford, Demetriou, Hart, White (C). Subs Not Used: Seaden, Howard, Acquah, Walsh
Barrow XI: Dixon, Brown (Angus 72’), Brough, Platt, Hird (C) (Jones 60’), Quigley, Hardcastle, Kay, Beadling, C Taylor, James. Subs Not Used: Lillis, J Taylor, Zouma, Wilson
Referee: Christopher Pollard
Assistants: Andrew Aylott & Nicholas Cooper
Fourth Official: Stephen Finch
Southend United: Reeco Hackett-Fairchild 3’
Southend United: Greg Halford 17’, Mark Oxley 79’
Barrow: Sam Hird 54’, Josh Kay 83’
Southend United: Greg Halford 52’