For a long time this season it looked as if Southend United could be relegated as results went wrong for them, especially since the turn of the year.
More often than not a late goal or a one-goal defeat was the order of the day for the famous old club who are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year with a gala night at the Granville Hotel on Sunday, May 4th. The last time the club faced relegation from the Premier League was back in 1996. They required a point against St Otteran’s and they duly achieved their aim, largely thanks to a great display from Jimmy Hetherington.
Before this game on Wednesday last they had a total of 14 points, one behind Ferrybank who have completed their league season. Johnville also have a total of 15 points but they have yet to play Carrick United in St Martin’s Park.
The previous Sunday, Southend had defeated title chasing St Saviour’s to move away from the 11 point mark and they displayed wonderful character in that contest because having taken the lead they were pegged back to level pegging late on before Michael Farrell popped up with a last gasp winner to secure all the points and manager Brian “Tiff” Thompson was hoping that the spirit shown in that game would carry over into this game.
He got his wish because two superb goals in the second half moved his side on to 17 points and safety. At time the Southend players did look a little nervous against a team who are gearing up for the Ardagh Cup campaign. Villa could play the game as free spirits, while on the other hand the Southend lads were playing for the very future of the club.
When referee Tony Walsh blew the full time whistle the Tangerine-clad players punched the air in delight. Perhaps it was more relief. It would be unthinkable to try and imagine a Premier League without Southend United but no one club has a divine right to be members of the top flight, and this season has proved that every single point has to be worked for.
It has been very tight at the top and the bottom all season and at this stage no one is quite sure who will drop out and who will lift the crown. For now however Southend United can start building for next season and also look forward to playing Dungarvan United in the Ardagh Cup.
The Old Borough side have defeated them on two occasions in the league and also knocked them out of the FAI Junior Cup, so now that the pressure of relegation has been removed from their shoulders perhaps the time has come for them to put one over on Anslem Hayes men.
Southen began brightly and they could have taken the lead after 6 minutes. Paddy Carey split the Villa defence with a ball from just inside the Villa half. Lee Hayes raced on to the ball and shot at goal on the run but the home goalkeeper Cian O’Brien produced a very good save.
Four minutes later Ian Cantwell of the Villa went very close with a curling effort from 25 yards. One of Southend’s top players, Paul Carey had to leave the field with a back injury after only 29 minutes. The Waterford Inter League youth player picked up the injury against St Saviour’s the previous Sunday and he was unable to shake off the injury. He was replaced by Anthony O’Rourke who was to go on and enjoy a fine match.
Colin Fanning came to the rescue of United on the half hour mark when he kicked the ball off the goal-line after Des Mullett had met a Danny Sheridan corner kick with his head.
Lee Hayes went close on two occasions for Southend before the break. First he met a right wing cross from Anthony O’Rourke but his header went narrowly wide and moments later he was just off target with a hard shot.
Quilty breaks tension
Southend scored their badly needed goal 50 seconds into the second half. The ball was lost by the Villa defence and Paddy Carey played the ball out left to Paul Quilty who raced in from the flank before hammering the ball high into the roof of the net past a helpless Cian O’Brien in the Villa goal. It was a top-class goal and one could see the confidence begin to flow from the Southend team following Quilty’s wonder strike.
Having said that the Villa outfit were not going to roll over and they also had their moments before Southend increased their lead on 70 minutes. Anthony O’Rourke played the ball forward from the right and when Lee Hayes knocked the ball forward to Paddy Carey he cracked a shot past Cian O’Brien who was coming out trying to narrow the angle.
To give the Villa players credit they refused to roll over and die and they very nearly pulled a goal back on 72 minutes. Des Mullett played a delightful ball to Paul Omotoso and he almost broke the Southend crossbar with a blistering shot from 20 yards.
The United goalkeeper Cliff Kearney had to be at his very best to tip over a red-hot free kick from Ian O’Sullivan on 79 minutes. The final 11 minutes saw Southend hold firm and they greeted the full time whistle with joy.
Safe for another season, and no doubt plans will already be worked on to avoid another league season like this.
Villa: Cian O’Brien, Neill Henneberry, Owen Ginnity, Declan Furlong, Ian O’Sullivan, Paul Omotoso, Ian Cantwell, Jimmy Barry, Declan Woodgate, Dessie Mullett, Danny Sheridan. Subs: Paddy Davis for Furlong (83 mins), Tadgh Kirby for Cantwell (86 mins).
Southend United: Cliff Kearney, Daniel Sullivan, Colin Fanning, Lee Russell, Michael Farrell, Michael Caulfield, Paul Carey, Stephen Forsey, Lee Hayes, Paddy Carey, Paul Quilty. Subs: Anthony O’Rourke for Paul Carey (28 mins), Brian Arrigan for Paddy Carey (79 mins), Paddy Dooley for Hayes (85 mins).Referee: Tony Walsh.