Fleetwood 0-0 Southend
By David Mitchell
Fleetwood Town’s new manager, Graham Alexander,will have taken heart as his side matched in-form Southend United in a goalless draw in front of 2399 at Highbury and showed many of the characteristics that he had as a player.
Town withstood much first half pressure before creating a number of openings after the break.
The new era began with a new skipper, Rob Atkinson, and three changes to the side knocked out of the FA Cup by Aldershot seven days ago. Atkinson returned from a loan period at Accrington and there were starts for Dean Howell and Steven Gillespie. Damien Johnson and Tom Barkhuizen dropped to the bench and Steve McNulty has had a recurrence of
calf trouble, coming off early last week. Striker Gavin Tomlin passed a fitness test and took his place in a Southend side unbeaten in nine games.
Alan Goodall lined up alongside Atkinson in central defence as the game started in cold and wet conditions. Barry Nicholson had the first shot on goal, straight at keeper, Paul Smith, but it was the visitors who did posed the greater threat in the opening minutes, showing the power and pace that have made them top scorers in the league on the road.
Midfielder, Anthony Straker, turned the ball in after four minutes only to denied by the offside flag. Town responded immediately. David Ball linked down the left with Barry Nicholson, whose cross was cleared. Town created a clearer chance after 21 minutes when good running down the left by Howell was followed by a cross which found Ball. The reaction from the
Southend defence was quick enough to avert danger. The visitors showed their counter-attacking strength immediately with Town having to be on guard to deny Tomlin in the
inside-right channel. Scott Davies and Goodall cleared the danger. Paul Sturrock’s side was displaying the momentum of a team in form.
Barry Ferguson was replaced in midfield by Jamie Milligan in the 29th minute, the former international retiring with a groin problem. Two minutes later, Brown rose at the back post, his downward header bouncing high on to the top of the netting. Town were seeing more of the ball in the attacking half but finding it difficult to make an impact against a tall defensive unit. Brown was switched to the right of midfield while Milligan was looking to make that telling intervention which could change the game. He slipped a ball through to Gillespie after 33 minutes, the striker just failing to link with Ball.
Southend came back with a flurry of activity as the half drew to a close, Davies denying top scorer Britt Assombalonga with a smart save to his right in the 41st
minute. The offside flag came to Town’s assistance again two minutes later when Marc Laird headed powerfully past Davies after a cross from the right. Laird was finding space in midfield and making some telling contributions.
The first chance of the second period went to Southend. After some busy approach work from Town in the opening minutes, the home defence opened up after 53 minutes and Tomlin found Straker in space. As the Cod Army‘s hearts missed a beat, the left-foot shot was dragged wide. Town came forward but on several occasions their industrious approach work was let
down by the final pass.
The breakthrough nearly came in the 63rd
minute. Howell’s cross found Nicholson who forced Smith to tip the ball over the bar. Three minutes later, Nicholson and Shaun Beeley combined well down the right, forcing Southend to clear for a corner under pressure. It was a good period for Town and Brown almost sneaked in to get on the end of a Milligan pass.
Each side made a change in the 68th
minute. Alex Titchiner replaced Ball for Town and, for Southend, Barry Corr came on for Straker and came close to giving his side the lead with quarter of an hour left, rising to meet a corner at the near post. Soon after, Gillespie swivelled on the edge of the area and struck a firm shot wide of Smith’s right-hand post. Play immediately swung back the other way, Davies and Howell combining under pressure to relieve the danger. Laird brought another good save from Davies and Ryan Cresswell fired over from close range in a crowded goalmouth. Scott Donnelly replaced Tomlin after 78 minutes. Sturrock’s finalsubstitution saw the departure of Assombalonga, replaced by Freddy Eastwood.
Titchener’s lively pace was causing problems as Town searched for the winner. Gillespie scooped a left foot shot over the bar in the 84th
minute and Titchiner turned on the proverbial
sixpence before hitting a left foot shot straight at Smith. Southend finished on the offensive but Town withstood to earn the point.
TEAM: Davies, Beeley, Atkinson (captain), Goodall, Howell, Nicholson, Ferguson (Milligan 29), Marrow, Brown, Ball (Titchener 68), Gillespie