Sunday, 28 October 2012

Southend United 0 York City 0

The official Southend United club reporter came up with the following damning verdict on this match:

‘Southend United played out a dour 0-0 draw with York City at Roots Hall this afternoon.

‘Both sides struggled to create clear cut chances. [Pause for dramatic effect]

‘And there was little to entertain the supporters.’

Spot on sir, well done. No point trying to drag out positives from this even if it is kind of in your job description. Unfortunately, this match disappointed in every regard and spoilt a very pleasant day out. This was soporific, stick-in-your-seats, five to one on the Football League Show stuff. 

The half-time mascot race, in which an eagle from Essex County Cricket Club beat the Nandos chicken in a 50 yard dash, offered a greater spectacle. That eagle should be signed up, I tell you. 

York looked the more accomplished and sophisticated side and have surprised many this season, as a newly promoted side, with their resolute defending and fast breaks. Southend were, apparently, much improved on their midweek reverse to Aldershot, but rarely looked like beating Michael Ingham. They cranked up the pressure in the last 20 minutes or so, but couldn’t crack the code.

The last time I joined Mail Online colleague Mark Duell and his family for a Southend match, it was also a goalless affair. But there was satisfaction in that it was an FA Cup tie away against Preston, higher league opposition. This time there was very little to cling on to, though the Shrimpers will face many worse teams than York this year. 

The first chill blast of winter had arrived and the snug comfort of the winter coat called upon for the first time. Essex had been spared the ice and snow seen in the North, but there was the squally blow of northerly wind and icy rain as I stepped off the train at Leigh-on-Sea, where Mark lives. If we’re in to cashmere, Thermos and Bovril territory already, then it might be a long winter.

It was my maiden visit to Roots Hall and I was delighted it was a proper old fashioned venue. The ramshackle stands play hide and seek with rows of terraced houses, the four floodlight pylons (weirdly positioned so that they kind of stare away from the pitch) providing the only clues. It’s tight, cramped, leaky and rocking to the thump of almost-forgotten dance anthems as kick-off approaches. This is a genuine football ground. 

We were positioned along the side, just raised enough above the pitch to know what’s happening. To our left was a shed split between home and away fans. The noise was fantastic for a mid-table League Two game, with the thud of drums on both sides of the divide and relentless singing all afternoon. York’s following of over 400 was excellent and much more vocal than when I joined them at Barnet. 

The Essex side started the brighter and Britt Assombalonga (who just has an incredible name) warmed the chilly palms of Ingham a couple of times in the first ten minutes. Britt, or ‘Bongo’ as he was nicknamed by those around me, was later dispatched over the advertising hoardings and sent tumbling into a kind of no man’s land trench at the front of the away stand. It was one of those Evil Knievel-style ‘He’s alright, folks’ moments when he eventually hobbled back into the fray. 

That chance aside, York dominated the half. Their passing was crisper, and they exploited Southend’s left-back Anthony Straker quite a few times to fire in low crosses. At the back, marshalled by the evergreen and ever-intelligent Clarke Carlisle, they looked in complete control. 

Southend were finding it difficult to gain a grip on the midfield - Marc Laird, newly acquired from Leyton Orient, looked promising on debut and cult hero Freddy Eastwood bustled around without breaking through. Gavin Tomlin, meanwhile, had a shocker and looked all at sea. 

Gary Mills sent York out for the second-half with fire in their bellies and a succession of header whistled wide of the mark. And with perhaps the game’s clearest opening, Matty Blair sprinted clear but was denied twice by Southend goalkeeper Paul Smith.

As the small clock above the goal they were attacking ticked down towards ten to five, Southend finally found themselves. With Sean Clohessy cutting loose down the right wing for the first time and a bombardment of corners and set-pieces, it required every ounce of York’s effort and concentration to escape back to Yorkshire with a point. 

I’ve decided, meanwhile, I’m bad news for Southend. I bring a curse on the goal. 

Next Match: Heading home next weekend for the Lincolnshire Derby between Boston and Gainsborough at York Street.