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Southend slip to defeat.

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Brian Jeeves with quink & feather at Cressing Road

Southend United suffered their first pre-season setback on a bright but chilly evening at Cressing Road.

Braintree manager Alan Devonshire has done sterling work to cement the clubs place as Essex’s top ranked non-league side. This was a chance for his charges to set down a marker to warn all comers that the North Essex town will be a difficult place to pillage points from during the coming months. Meanwhile, Southend gaffer, Phil Brown once again chose to experiment with a sprinkling of trialist added to his somewhat threadbare squad.

The Shrimpers were taking to the field for the second time in 24 hours having previously dispatched Bishops Stortford on their own patch. Obviously, at this stage of the season games are purely for gaining fitness, although perhaps in hindsight this was a bridge too far as some of the players looked somewhat jaded. This was regarded by many as Southend’s biggest test to date and Braintree were not about to disappoint. The home side flew out of the blocks, Chez Issacs fired into the side netting in the opening seconds and inside four minutes they were in front. Dan Holman picked the pocket of the Shrimpers rearguard before delivering a delightfully chipped cross, Sean Marks needed no invitation to head the ball into an empty onion bag.

Stunned by the lightening start, Southend endeavoured in an attempt to even the score. Nathan McDonald in the Braintree goal expertly dealt with Chris Barkers hooked cross, while further balls from the flank supplied by Freddy Eastwood, Anthony Straker and Ben Coker found no takers. 

The Shrimpers supporters were buoyed by the improvement, although Daniel Bentley had to be on his toes to deal with a Ryan Peters drive as the home side looked to double their advantage.

Dan Sparkes was giving the Southend back line a few headaches. Firstly, his teasing cross eluded a clutch of targets, he was then desperately unlucky to see a shot fizz past an upright with Bentley clutching thin air. Nevertheless, Southend had found their feet; they were moving the ball around a little more crisply and with purpose. Then, midway through the half, they drew level. Coker’s shot was deflected towards Kane Hemming, however, in an attempt to clear the danger Braintree defender Matt Paine saw his slice loop over McDonald and into his own net.

Southend pressed on. John White fired wide after good build up play from Kevan Hurst; the visitors were starting to express themselves with a little more belief.

If I wrote a list of the greatest games I’ve seen, this encounter was never likely to be a challenger. However, at this point of proceedings came a moment that epitomises why I love lower and non-league football so much.You would be hard pushed to find a modern day player more honest than Southend’s John White. When the Shrimpers new recruit was on the receiving end of a thundering but fair tackle from Newman Carney, he simply got back on his feet, albeit somewhat gingerly, and the match resumed. No theatrics or retribution and most impressively a sensible reaction from the referee.

Had this been a Premiership match things would have been quite different. A pole axed superstar seemingly clinging to life, the referee brandishing his card with an exaggerated double arm jerk. Meanwhile the hysterical masses in the stands demanding a public flogging for a player now leaving the field for being the victim of a Tom Daley impression.  Personally, I prefer my football real!

The interval came with both camps seemingly content, but on their return, Southend started the brighter. Eastwood fired a left foot effort wide while Will Atkinson shot wide after being put clear by former Rangers man Hemming.

Braintree responded when James Mulley produced a great run and shot which had Bentley scrambling across his goal, but after the visitors made a mass of substitutions the game became a midfield minefield as passes went astray as the new charges looked to settle into the game.

With his unusual locks, the appearance of Braintree substitute Jordan Cox had the Shrimpers faithful reminiscing blast from the past Jason Lee. Indeed, two somewhat portly gentlemen (one slightly balding) who were stood behind the goal gave us a rendition of that old terrace favourite “He’s got a pineapple on his head” as the young striker joined the action.

Once Southend found some kind of rhythm, they looked to put the game to bed. Seedy Njie and Cleveland Taylor missed decent half chances while the impressive Jack Payne sent a curling shot agonisingly wide.

However, just as it seemed a matter of time before the visitors found a winner, Braintree dealt a late killer blow. Nicky Symons crisp drive beat stand-in custodian Ted Smith and found the bottom corner and despite a late surge, Southend, for tonight, were done.

The match will have helped Phil Brown answer a few questions, particularly concerning some of his trialists, one would expect it will be another couple of weeks before he starts to field a team resembling the one which with start the League campaign. Meanwhile, Alan Devonshire will look to build on the firm foundation of this result. Braintree will need to make Cressing Road a fortress if they are to make an impact in this seasons Football Conference.  

Braintree Town; (From) McDonald, Peters, Carney, Wells, Paine, Issacs, Mulley, Sparkes, Davis, Marks, Holman, Cox, Symons, Ince, Griffiths, Massey, Wassmer, Akalpele, Ouyile, Campbell

Southend United Starting XI: Bentley; White, Tatham, Barker, Coker; Straker, Hurst (Atkinson 45), Laird, Scott; Eastwood, Hemmings.

Southend United XI (From 60 mins): Smith; Auger, Phillips, Prosser, Bruno; Taylor, Payne, Atkinson, Silva; Erskine, Njie.

Attendance; Approx 600

Match Highlights: