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Oxford United beaten by leaders Southend
SEVEN days previously, Peter Leven’s wonder-strike gave Oxford United a 2-1 home victory.
But while Ryan Hall’s long-range effort was not in Leven’s class, his fine finish was enough for leaders Southend to beat the U’s at Roots Hall on Saturday.
Such is the tight points situation at the top of the npower League Two table, defeat saw Chris Wilder’s team drop from third to seventh.
But this was a game that the U’s probably shouldn’t even have drawn – but won.
Oxford could, and probably should, have had the game sewn up by half-time such was their dominance, but they failed to find the net.
That was down to a combination of poor finishing and a brilliant display from Shrimpers keeper Luke Daniels.
The U’s could also point to a good penalty shout when Harry Worley, making his first appearance of the season, was manhandled in the box as he tried to get to a corner.
With Michael Duberry missing from the starting line-up due to a groin injury, Worley came in alongside Jake Wright and Andy Whing as part of a back three.
In a four-man midfield, Damian Batt and Liam Davis played at wing-backs either side of Simon Heslop and Peter Leven, with Paul McLaren left on the bench.
Up front Danny Philliskirk made his full Oxford debut alongside James Constable and Alfie Potter.
And the new formation worked well in the opening period as the U’s forced Southend, who came into the game with nine wins from ten matches, onto the back foot.
Some good link-up play involving Potter and Batt saw Leven fire in an 18-yard effort, but Daniels grabbed the ball low to his left.
Minutes later, Potter set up the Scottish midfielder who was again denied by that man Daniels.
Constable went close to opening the scoring, but Peter Gilbert got in a good challenge to deflect the ball away for a corner.
Leven was again denied when the keeper clawed away his super free-kick from the edge of the area after Philliskirk was brought down by Mark Phillips.
Daniel then made a terrific block from Constable as he went for goal.
It was all Oxford and it seemed only a matter of time before they would score.
Daniels saved a Whing header from a Leven corner, but there was a moment of controversy on 28 minutes when Worley appeared to be pulled down in the area by Liam Dickinson as he tried to meet a Leven free-kick, but referee Mark Heywood was having none of it.
Seconds later, a ball into the area struck the arm of Chris Barker, but again nothing was given.
At the other end, Constable made a terrific block to deny Dickinson a shot on goal, before Daniels, yet again, denied Leven, whose well-hit 30-yard shot looked to be going in.
Batt suffered a cut left eye after a nasty clash of heads, and the U’s were left in a daze two minutes into injury-time when Southend went ahead – with their only shot on target in the entire first half.
Whing was harshly-adjudged to have brought down Neil Harris and Hall’s free-kick found Phillips who headed in at the far post.
After the break, Oxford started to re-assert their control, with only a great stop by Daniels, from another free-kick by the excellent Leven, denying them the equaliser.
Michael Timlin should have doubled their lead when he broke through on goal, only to sidefoot wide with just Ryan Clarke to beat.
And Southend were made to pay when the U’s levelled following a sustained spell of pressure.
Leven broke down the left and Batt headed in his pinpoint cross for his first goal of the season.
However, the U’s joy had barely ended when Southend got the winner. A great ball over the defence from Timlin found Hall who blasted in an unstoppable, curling shot from 25 yards.
Southend could have gone further in front, but Clarke tipped Ryan Leonard’s shot onto a post.
Oxford threw everyone forward in a desperate attempt to level, with Potter firing a decent chance over, but they left empty-handed as their first-half failure to score proved crucial.
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