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  • The Bescot Miracle

    My plan to write the third and final part the two-part trilogy (apologies to Douglas Adams for the shameless ‘reference’) has been derailed. Instead, I will react to the last couple of matches Southend United have played this week.

    On Tuesday night we had a dead rubber game in the oft maligned Whatever It’s Called Cup (the football league trophy, which sees League One and League Two clubs, along with a bunch of u21 squads from the Premier League, competing for a place in the final at Wembley. It was always a competition that attracted poor crowds and didn’t seem to really matter… unless your team suddenly made it to the final. Then it mattered. Supporters travel from near and far to attend the big event. I know. I did it. Twice. Travelling from Malta to watch Southend United in two finals (then played at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium while Wembley was being re-imagined). We lost both finals! Now, the trophy competition has lost the backing of fans to a far greater extent after the inclusion of the Prem u21s.

    So, back to the Tuesday game. It was away against our Essex rivals, Colchester United. Both teams were already out of the competition in this initial mini-league stage. With an eye on the Saturday fixture away at Walsall’s Bescot Stadium, our under-pressure manager, Mark Molesley named a very weak, very young and inexperienced starting XI, and a weak bench, too. Most supporters could understand this, especially given our injury record, but his chosen formation raised eyebrows and the result was a 6-1 drubbing. As the team arrived back at our Roots Hall ground, they found that incensed supporters had padlocked the gates and started to pelt the coach with eggs.

    I found the locking of the gates to be quite funny and a decent method of conveying our frustrations – although the players on the coach that participated in the humiliation were not the players that have let us down game after game in the league – so that was a bit unfair… but I certainly don’t condone the egging of the coach at all.

    The next day, after a protracted will he, won’t he… former Blackburn Rovers loanee, Sam Hart’s signing was announced. It was odd timing. Was the player signed beforehand but suddenly announced now to appease the angry fans? Well, normally you wouldn’t think so, but there isn’t much normality about this season. We are still under embargo, so there would be no need to announce a player that cannot be registered to play. In fact, signing players that we cannot play has also been a source of fan frustration (we signed Simeon Akinola from Barnet in September and, even though we are desperate to add to our powder puff attack, he remains unregistered).

    As the league game against Walsall approached, there was a pervasive negativity amongst us. Why wouldn’t there be? Walsall had lost just one league game and the less said about our record, the better.

    And so, the game arrived. Our regular right back, Elvis Bwomono was away on international duty for Uganda. I didn’t actually mind. This promising youngster, who has played just over 100 games at the age tender age of 21 has been way off form. The concern for me was that we played a rather inexperienced central defender in his position when we have a former, experienced right back, playing in central midfield. Other than that, Molesley seemed to have picked the best team available. We could only name a subs bench of five (four outfield players… no defenders) rather than the seven allowed. The formation of 4-5-1 seemed fair enough, too.

    Apart from a very good early chance that fell to our sole attacker, Brandon Goodship, we started slowly with Walsall looking lively. What we got after the opening 15 minutes came as a bit of a shock. We started to close our opponents down, found our passes & played with purpose. Our defence (thanks to the return of experienced John White to the centre) looked more assured. Mark Oxley, our goalkeeper, commanded his area. We got rid of the ‘pass side to side, pass back, back to the keeper, play it in our own box, give it away, concede’. We got the round thing forward, played it into the opponent’s box. Walsall became patchy. Flat. WE did this to them. Southend United were a TEAM.

    However, it remained 0-0 and the tension started to ratchet up. Could we hold on for a draw? A clean sheet? Never.

    In the 65th minute, the excellent White was taken off and replaced by young striker Emile Acquah. I worried. White had played so well, but I understood that, after a long layoff and a busy day at the office, he probably didn’t have much left in the tank… but the addition of Acquah, a forward who hasn’t really impressed, meant a change of formation to 4-4-2 when our previous shape had served well.

    As it turned out, we continued to threaten with two very good chances saved by the Saddlers goalkeeper.

    Then, in the 82nd minute, our young left back Tom Clifford, brought down Cameron Norman with a clumsy challenge in the box. Walsall were awarded a stonewall penalty. Up stepped Elijah Adebayo. And he slammed his spot kick against the crossbar! For once, it seemed the football gods were on our side. Well, this was confirmed in the 88th minute when we broke, the ball came to Acquah who, for once, was using his big build to hold off the defender and hold on to the ball. He turned, shot, and the ball slowly settled into the corner of the Walsall goal.

    We made a goal thingy.

    Could it be a winning goal thingy?

    We needed to hold on. We played the ball long. Held on to it in the corners. Ran the time down. Managed the game. In fact, the frustration on the Walsall side saw them go down to 10 for a second yellow card.

    The final whistle came with so much elation you’d be forgiven for thinking we had won the league. Our message board went into overdrive. You could see what it meant to the players and management, too. A massive release valve had opened.

    Yes, we remain bottom of the table, but we remain in touch with those above us.

    Will this win see us turn a corner? Maybe. I hope so. Our next game is against high flying Cambridge United, so it will be a tough test… but a test we need to face with fresh belief and heads held high.

    Let me write it one more time.

    We. Won. A. Game.


    Article written by Southend Fan and accomplished writer Mark Warner.

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    1. Chris Grillo

      As a similarly frustrated Shrimpers fan, I can understand your elation. First win of the season, and against a team which had lost only one encounter, against Cambridge, and then, only by conceding two penalties.

      The financial position is very unhealthy, and it is no surprise to see the squad struggle. To be honest, there were a couple of drawn matches SUFC should have won had they not conceded extremely late goals, but that is the story of football.

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