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Saturday 28th April 2012 ko 3.00pm

League 2


SOUTHEND UNITED 2 (Hall 19 Mohsni 31)

Att 9,356 (1,106 away)

Entry S/T

Programme £3 (incl Ox Mail)

Right let’s get one thing straight, Southend were by far the better team and deserved their win. One look at the two benches shows you why. For Oxford the youth team keeper, a loanee, and two players returning from injury to complement Adam Chapman. For Southend fire power from Elliot Benyon and almost unbelievably, Freddy Eastwood. It says something that neither were needed.

It was game with plenty resting on it for both teams. For Oxford a chance to return to the playoff zone, and for Southend the chance to keep in the chase for automatic promotion. With goalkeeper Wayne Brown having damaged his knee in training Middlesbrough’s youth keeper Connor Ripley was drafted in late yesterday. Peter Leven’s shoulder was deemed to be the wrong side of acceptable, and Cristian Montano made way for Jon-Paul Pittman. A fit-again Damian Batt allowed Supporters’ player of the year Andy Whing to return to midfield. Adam Chapman was relegated to the bench in favour of a supposedly fit-again Simon Heslop.

Oxford made a bright start with the impressive Dean Morgan seeing his shot blocked by Cameron Belford, only for Asa Hall to blast the rebound over. Southend soon took control over the midfield, and two through balls saw Southend forwards make forward runs only to be stopped crudely by firstly Jake Wright, then Michael Duberry. Both were booked but it was the free kick as a result of the second that took the game towards the visitors. Ryan Hall’s 19th-minute effort had power, but was straight at Ripley, who somehow let the ball pass through his hands and into the net.

At a stroke Oxford’s confidence and fluency evaporated and the struggle got more up-hill in the 31st minute. A looping cross from the left should have been dealt with, but Bilel Mohsni peeled off the back of marker Liam Davis to glance a header perfectly into the bottom right corner.

Ripley was beaten for a third time 6 minutes before the break, when Neil Harris’ chip beat the young debutant, but Duberry raced back to hook the ball off the line. The ever reliable Whing forced a decent save from Belford, but at half time the Shrimpers would good value for their lead.

For the second half Chapman replaced Heslop, but at no point did the hosts regain full fluency. Pittman scuffed a Scott Rendell cross, then saw a better effort blocked by Belford.  As Oxford got more desperate Tom Craddock replaced Morgan and then Montano the hard-working Andy Whing, who’d done nothing wrong. Chapman fired a free kick just over the bar, and Montano’s jinking run into the box resulted in him being hacked down. To everyone’s amazement referee Lee Collins saw fit to award only a goal kick.

As the game wound down I listened to the supporters’ comments. Yes, OUFC were very second best, but sat as I was in front of the press box, you could see what the problem was. For sat in the press area were the likes of Ryan Clarke, Peter Leven, Alfie Potter, and James Constable, all injured. That’s where Oxford season has disappeared to, mournfully sitting with the journalists, unavailable. Much has been made of Chris Wilder’s use of the loan market, but if those and others had been available for more of the season, I’m certain we’d be at worst, in the playoff zone.

As it is, Oxford need to win at Port Vale next Saturday, and hope Crewe lose at home to nothing-to-play for Aldershot to sneak an unlikely play-off slot. At the final whistle the people I sit with wished each other a happy summer, in the cold and gloom.

I’ve been hearing some supporters call for Chris Wilder to be sacked. Well, I’d be careful what you wish for. What manager would want to come to a club that’s sacked a manager who’s improved the club’s league position each season of his tenure? And that’s not considering who’s available either, although I’m sure there are a few that think that Pep Guardiola could be convinced by a club flat on Greater Leys. Patience is a virtue, it took 4 years to get out of the Conference, and simply throwing money at it isn’t a long-term solution, just ask the likes of Plymouth…….