Published on 12th Jan 2019 by Rachel Garfirth
Southend Men’s 3s: 1 (Shute 44’) Maldon Academy: 1
Report by Jeremy Puncher
Southend’s Andy Shute scored his first goal in over two years for his boyhood club but saw his side drop points against an organised Maldon Academy.
The robust midfielder lashed in from the edge of the ‘D’ after a flowing passing move in the second half before Maldon responded with a goal from a short corner set-piece to ensure honours remained even.
The previous meeting, a 3-3 away result, meant that 3rd from bottom Maldon were not a team to be taken lightly by Steve Wilkinson’s high-flying Southend.
The first game back from the Christmas break saw both teams showing rustiness and signs of fatigue early on with numerous scrappy challenges and tackles flying in. Nevertheless, the home side were able to force chances from open play through Aaron Harding and Mickey Walsh getting in behind the opposition defence, though each time they were denied by a sprawling ‘keeper. Academy graduate Tom Garrod showed composure on the ball as Southend managed to retain possession as the half wore on. Maldon created little going forward, missing one opportunity with the ball spinning narrowly wide of the left upright.
Half time: 0-0
After the interval, Southend came out of the blocks and pushed forward in their droves. Lee Evans and Andy Shute at the heart of each attack. After further half-chances fell to Walsh, it was Shute who dealt the first blow in the contest. His flicked effort from the top of the ‘D’ took a deflection off the ‘keeper and landed in the opposite side of the goal sparking scenes of jubilation from the fans and spectators.
The goal immediately fired up Maldon, who applied pressure from the restart and forced a short corner off an unfortunate Shute. From the resulting set play, ‘keeper Jon Evans did well to block the initial strike, but the follow up cross-cum-shot was edged into the narrowest of gaps between Evans and the outstretched stick of defender Jeremy Puncher before rolling into the bottom corner. Maldon pushed once more against a shell-shocked Southend defence, with Evans pulling off a vital save before the Blues successfully nullified a chain of short corners. Southend looked the more likely to score from open play, though were fully aware of the threat posed by Maldon from set pieces. Walsh once again went close after an incisive pass from captain Wilkinson but he miscued his effort agonisingly wide. And the Maldon ‘keeper had the final say, superbly denying Puncher from close range after an excellent defence-splitting delivery from brother Phil Puncher. The full time whistle came with Shute and Harding both carrying knocks as tiredness set in, though in truth both teams will be happy not to have lost this game.
Full time: 1-1
Southend remain second in the league standings, with the point extending the gap to third-placed Upminster to three points. The two sides will battle it out next weekend in a crucial fixture that may go some way in deciding promotion.
Man of the Match went to the ever reliable utility player Lee Evans, who excelled in both the defensive and attacking sides of the game and gave his team some precious breathing space at times.
After the match, player-manager Steve Wilkinson was in reflective mood: “It was a frustrating day at the office today. Clearly the lads enjoyed the Christmas break as most of them were still at the Christmas table. We didn’t play with the intensity this game required and at times Maldon made us look like a bunch of turkeys. But, I am pleased we’re still unbeaten at home and we must maintain that. We’ve got a huge game against Upminster up next and I think we now owe the fans a big performance.”