It wasn’t supposed to end like this. United were meant to get back on track against a Southend team stuck in the bottom two. Mullin and Ironside, a resounding win at the Abbey.
Instead what we got was the epitome of a bore draw, United struggling to assert their position in the League table against a Southend side constructed of individually poor players. Two shots on target tells you a large part of the story, but look a little deeper and you’ll see we only had four in the entire game. Southend had thirteen. A more clinical side would (and perhaps should) have torn us apart.
We don’t want to be all negative though – Ian Darler and his band of volunteers deserve all the credit in the world for actually ensuring the game was on in the first place, rigging up a variety of fan heaters, pub benches (we’re still not sure how they helped) and a collection of grow lamps that would put Howard Marks to shame to thaw the frozen pitch and ensure the U’s didn’t have to play midweek. He rightly got the man of the match award, for the second time in his career. The only other team to get their game on in League Two? Bolton, with their modern, undersoil-heated, Premiership-class stadium.
Were there any other positives then? A few, but you had to look to find them. A clean sheet is always a good start, and Jubril Okedina put his mare against Salford behind him to form a rock solid backline with Greg Taylor. Despite their thirteen shots, Southend never really looked like scoring, and that’s in part down to those two. Declan Drysdale too deserves a shout. He’s not a natural midfielder, as evidenced by his lack of composure in the final third of the pitch, but defensively he soaked up as much as he could before it troubled Greg and Jubril at the back, whilst also looking to get the ball forward as much as possible.
Wes Hoolahan had one of his rare off days, and it’s so frustrating to watch as we know what he’s capable of. I’m sure the pitch didn’t help his cause, but his delivery of corners and set pieces was dreadful, and he was guilty of giving the ball away more often that someone of his calibre should. But then he does something like nutmeg an attacker in our box and all is (almost) forgiven.
His midfield partner on the other hand must be on very thin ice. It’s been clear as day Luke Hannant hasn’t been in the best form for quite some time now, and is looking in dire need of a rest. With Shilow Tracey as an option, and Liam O’Neil, Paul Digby and Hiram Boateng all fast coming back from injury Bonner needs to switch things up a bit in midfield, even if it means we miss Luke’s work rate and dribbling, which can’t be questioned. What can be questioned is his willingness to go to ground easily, and the quality of some of his final balls. His entire performance Saturday was typified in his last kick of the game, a loose pass straight into touch.
We’ve got a week off now, and luckily Mansfield dropped points Sunday and everyone else gets a game in hand. Whilst it’s easy to look at teams with games in hand being guaranteed three points in all of them, the inconsistent nature of this League, and the sheer number of games sides will have to fit in to the remaining weeks of the season means its unlikely any side is going to win all of their games in hand over us. Even if they did, we’re still going to be in the hunt for the top three, so it’s not as bad as it might look.
Time to regroup, rest and have a think about what needs to change, and nurse our injured midfield trio back to fitness. There’s still a lot of games to play, and we’re still Mark Bonner’s Amber Army. Keep the faith.
Man of the Match: Declan Drysdale, head and shoulders above everyone else. Jubril Okedina and Greg Taylor deserve a mention too.
Soundtrack of the Match: The Cure – In Between Days
United: Burton, Knoyle, Okedina, Taylor, Iredale, Hannant, May (Tracey), Drysdale, Hoolahan (O’Neil), Ironside, Mullin