Essex Senior League
Southchurch Park Arena, Southend-on-Sea
Match Rating: 4
I decided to fly into Southend Airport on my return to the UK from Amsterdam, touching down just after 1pm to allow me ample time to cross the town to take in this game in the Essex Senior League.
Southchurch Park Arena is about a 15 minute walk from Southend East train station and is situated within a large park in close proximity to the seafront, and which has a cricket field adjacent to it. There are plenty of opportunities to easily watch the game from outside football ground without paying the rather expensive admission fee, a theme which is continued for a very overpriced programme. This was rather put into stark contrast for me as last night I had paid less for admission and programme combined for a Dutch second division match, even at the current poor exchange rates, compared with this game in the ninth tier in the English football pyramid. Spectators enter through a turnstile block alongside the clubhouse, and after a short walk, the path leads to pitchside along one length. Unfortunately, this is not an endearing place to watch football, having the feel of a recreation ground and a quality of pitch to match, the appearance is rather dreary with precious few finishing touches. There are three small metallic stands are located by the half way line, two being all-seater next to each other separated by a retractable caged metal players' walkway, with a further one covering steps to stand on. The brick clubhouse building is situated some way back from the pitch and looks uninviting from the outside, but is actually really comfortable and cosy on the inside. And indeed, there was a friendly feel about the place. There is just hard standing behind white railing around the rest of the ground, with quite a bit space around the ground to the perimeter fence. The 24 page programme offered sufficient stats to preview the game, some pen pics of the visiting team and newspaper articles, but for the inflated price, some interesting reading material would have been welcome, but to its credit, there was very little advertising contained within.
Southend Manor came into this game in sixth place, with ten wins and two draws from their 17 league games so far, while Waltham Forest were a point and two places better off, in fourth place with ten wins and three draws from their 16 league games.
On the first really cold afternoon of the season, with a really biting wind blowing off the sea, this match was surprisingly dominated by the home side, given that the visitors were actually above them in the league table. It took Southend just 6 minutes to open the scoring, a quick break down the right wing ended with a cross into the box which a defender should have cut out but he missed the ball, allowing an unmarked Sam Short the simple task of tapping the ball home. They doubled their lead on 17 minutes when a free kick was floated into the area and Michael Hopkins guided the ball in at the far post. They should have made it three within a minutes, when the ball was played through and sent the Southend striker through in goal, but he never really managed to control the ball before scuffing the ball wide of the post. The visitors came close to pulling a goal back on 25 minutes, when a weak header came back gently off the far post, and Southend again nearly scored on 31 minutes, when a free kick from deep was headed powerfully just wide of the post. But Southend went into the half time break deservedly ahead, although the game was far from over, as Waltham Forest did look quite dangerous on their occasional breaks.
However, within two minutes of the restart, Southend all but assured themselves of the three points. Callum Jex fired the ball from a corner, and it skimmed off the head of a defender to find its way into the far top right hand corner of the net. Things got even worse for the visitors on 53 minutes when a ball over the defence sent Callum Ibe clear and running towards goal, and he showed good composure to fire the ball low past the keeper. The visitors scored a consolation goal on 59 minutes when a looped cross from the right was bundled in at the far post by Omar Nyame. To their credit, the visitors kept battling away without ever looking likely to threaten an unlikely comeback in the remaining half hour, and Southend has their chances to restore their four goal lead. The visitors had Harry Larner sent off four minutes from time following a second yellow card.
And so Southend claimed a very comfortable victory with an impressive performance, always looking in complete control of the match, and they rose to fourth in the table ahead of Waltham Forest, who dropped to eighth. Although this was an entertaining match to watch, the walk to the warmth of the train ride home was most welcome after a bitterly cold afternoon outside.