The gap is up to 10 as manager walks the tightrope..

Southend United – 1
Nottingham Forest – 1

Yet again on a night when we had to win, we fell short with only a draw on an away trip.  A dire first half, from our point of view, was owned by a Southend side who dominated the midfield, scored and worried the woodwork, a second half improvement from the Reds was alas, too little too late – great work from substitutes Tyson and Thornhill produced the goal – but despite the effort undoubtedly put in after half time by the Reds, it wasn’t enough.

With Doncaster and Carlisle registering home wins elsewhere we have lost even more ground on the sides above us – so if things looked bleak at the weekend, they look even bleaker now.  Had other results been more expected recently, a draw at Roots Hall wouldn’t have been a bad result, but tonight was an all or nothing occasion – as such, we end up with too little – and barring a miracle this consigns us to playoffs at best, a bid which was aided massively by Leeds and Walsall losing this evening.

A brave but naive move by Smoulds to start with, on paper a 3-4-3 formation with Breckin, Wilson and Morgan at the back, and with Bennett and Perch playing as pseudo-wingers either side of Cohen and Clingan in midfield, with Agogo, Ormerod and Holt up front.  To say it didn’t exactly work is perhaps as much of an understatement as it is predictable – reassuring is his changes at half time seemingly making the difference.

As Southend attacked from the outset, the inevitable happened, and our so-called ‘wingers’ became fullbacks in a back five, allowing us to be hideously overrun in midfield, and our strikers having to fall back ever deeper in order to try to get into the game.  Brecks conceded an early corner, from which Southend crafted their first chance of the game, Gower shooting and forcing the save from Smith.

Forest did create some chances – forcing a corner at the other end which Cohen put in expertly, with Bennett unfortunately only able to fire wide across the face of goal.  Southend broke quickly shortly after, a long clearance from the keeper breaking for Robson-Kanu after good work from his strike-partner, putting him clean through and able to casually slot the ball past a despairing Paul Smith to give the home side the lead.

They weren’t finished there, either – Black did well to get past Holt, and crossed into Moussa, the ball became free and Holt went to clear, somehow conspiring to do so across his own goal which ended up back with Moussa who shot from a tight angle and struck the post to cause yet more jitters in defence, and for the fans alike.

Forest’s best chance of the half came after Clingan won possession in midfield, playing quickly to Cohen who played it on quickly to Perchy on the right wing.  Perch’s cross was decent, but a too close to the keeper.  Morgan was in the referee’s bad books for a fairly nothing challenge on their ‘keeper – he still got a booking for his trouble when arguably it wasn’t really a foul.

The final act of the first half was another attack from the home side – Barrett got the ball past Holt and played an excellent cross to Peter Clarke on the back stick, who tried to head the ball back across goal only for Paul Smith to make a solid punched clearance.  So half time arrives, and arguably Forest are (despite the Forest-centric nature of my comments!) lucky to only be down by a goal.

Holt paid the price for a poor performance and was withdrawn for Nathan Tyson at half time, with Agogo picking up a slight knock and being replaced by Matt Thornhill.  As the second half got underway the more familiar 3-5-2/5-3-2 Smoulderwood-special was in effect, Forest looked more composed and dangerous without crafting any early opportunities.

Southend indeed created the first chance of the half, a Walker cross was dealt with well by Smith at the expense of a corner – however, things were to improve dramatically.  Bennett played the ball to Tyson on the left, who played a firm cross across the face of goal which found Thornhill rushing in at the back post and able to sidefoot into the roof of the net to give some cheer to the travelling Forest fans.

It could have been two moments later – Thornhill won the ball in midfield, finding Brett Ormerod who moved the ball to Cohen, whose ball found Tyson with a shooting chance, but unfortunately the striker was only able to put his shot wide of the post.  Forest were the metaphorically different side as they started to play with precision and confidence as they piled pressure onto Southend.

However, the inevitable slips still occurred, Gower wasn’t closed down and was denied by an excellent stop from Smithy, before having to see Bennett clear off the line from the follow-up effort.  The final act came in stoppage time, a freekick from 25 yards after Cohen was brought down – which predictably was spannered into the wall by Clingan – giving us a corner which eventually came to nothing.  Southend still had time to give us a scare, a shot from 25 yards bouncing awkwardly infront of Smith forcing him into conceding the corner, after which it was game over.

Smoulderwood’s post-match comments have been interesting, he has – for the first time in my memory – almost openly criticised his players, especially those who were substituted.  He described feeling hurt by the first half performance, and pleased with the second – the warm response the players received from the travelling fans is testimony to a decent second half from the lads.

And so we look forward to the arrival of perpetual bogey-side Walsall on saturday – in a position where we’re closer to dropping out of the playoff places than we are of climbing out of them.  Personally a draw still isn’t good enough, and one good half of football in two crucial games is frankly poor – hopefully whatever Smoulds said at half time tonight will carry through to our forthcoming games.

I’m grumpy about the result, about our failure to at least maintain the ludicrous gap that Carlisle and Doncaster have opened up on us, not least I’m grumpy that I had to hastily create a different image to use with the match report after we equalised (if we’d got the winner I could’ve tolerated this!), I’ll have to save the original one, I fear – alas – it will become relevant before too long.