There was one change to the side which started against Maidenhead on Saturday, Bobby-Joe Taylor coming into the left side of the back three as Dan Gallagher moved back into the deeper lying midfield position, Aaron Kuhl therefore making way. Joe Rabbetts was included in the competitive matchday squad for the first time after being recalled from his loan at Dartford.
With the sun still shining just after kick-off, Wanderers were left scratching their heads as an innocuous Southend possession from deep in their half led to the opening goal. Some sharp passing cut through the Wanderer’s midfield before Jack Bridge drove forward from left of the centre circle and played a low ball to an unmarked Harry Cardwell who eagerly fired past Harrison Male to put his side ahead. Looking for an immediate response, a neat Wanderers move down the right flank almost presented a chance for James McShane on the edge of the box, but his driven effort was immediately blocked.
Maher’s high-pressing Southend kept Wanderers pegged back and continued to create chances as the half progressed with a second goal looking certain following a Southend corner. With the ball floated in and an ensuing melee in the box, Cardwell was able to fire at goal from just six yards but Male expertly dug the ball out from the corner of the goal to deny the striker.
Despite constant pressure and plenty of last-ditch defending required to protect Male’s goal, Wanderers began to inch into the game as the 30-minute mark approached. Seb Bowerman was picked out by Jason Prior just inside the box and after picking up the rebound of his initial blocked effort, fired again toward goal, testing Colin Andeng-Ndi in the Southend goal for the first time.
With Wanderers pressing higher up the pitch, Southend missed a glorious opportunity to double their lead shortly after. Harry Taylor’s defence-splitting pass from deep in the visitor’s half saw Cardwell again bearing down on goal, but unable to catch his strike cleanly, a strong left hand from Male forced the ball away from goal and into touch.
But Wanderers incremental gains up the pitch eventually paid dividends despite the visitor’s initial control of the game. Noor Husin, who had impressed in the Southend midfield, played a casual ball back toward his own goal and Ryan Seager reacted first to the mistake, beating Andeng-Ndi to the ball and slotting past the Southend ‘keeper. His first-time finish trickled into the net in front of the away fans to give Wanderers a vital foothold in the game, 34 minutes in.
Southend’s early brightness was undoubtedly dampened by the slip-up, with Wanderers keeping the visitors at bay for the remainder of the first half as only a Cav Miley shot from distance troubled the host’s goal. Wanderers would have been the happier of the two sides heading into the break, with the Shrimpers ruing missed chances earlier on.
As the two teams entered the field for the second half, Wanderers made the first change of the game with Aaron Kuhl replacing Bobby Joe Taylor. Dan Gallagher dropped back to complete the back three and an improved Wanderers side looked to take control in the early stages against a frustrated Southend.
The opening minutes of the second half were muted in comparison, though. Kuhl was pick-pocketed by Miley just two minutes after the restart but the ensuing cross-shot by Gus Scott-Morris from the right-hand side of the 18-yard box sailed high and wide without troubling Male.
Sensing the opportunity to capitalise on slowing Southend, Wanderers fans demanded forward passes as the players looked to assert their ascendancy by keeping hold of the ball and shifting the visitors around. A Tony Craig back-pass bought a collective breath inward though, as his ball toward goal wrong-footed Male who had to recover and clear in what was the first noticeable danger for Wanderers since the restart.
Unable to convert consistent pressure into shots on goal, Matt Briggs’s pace was released as a more expansive Wanderers sought to spread the play. A diagonal pass by James McShane found Briggs on the right-hand side of the field who bought the ball under control before cutting inside and firing over. Moments later a neat Bowerman pass beyond Southend’s Nathan Ralph was met by Briggs, who with open ground in front of him sped toward the Southend goal before striking, this time firing just wide.
With the pressure beginning to tell, Southend might count themselves lucky to have not been down to ten men with 65 minutes on the clock. Jason Prior was seemingly through one on one with Andeng-Ndi, but after Ollie Kensdale caught the striker in an attempt to recover, only a yellow card was brandished toward the Southend defender as Wanderers struck the resulting free-kick over.
A first clear-cut chance of the half presented itself for Southend in the 70th minute as Ralph was given a free run. Carrying the ball from left of the centre circle to the heart of the Wanderer’s back line, his ball across to an unmarked Cardwell was wastefully put wide to the dismay of the Southend fans.
As the visitors looked to stretch the game, determined running from Wanderers and in particular Barry Fuller, whose charging recovery of the ball deep in the Southend half elicited a resounding cheer from the crowd, kept the scores level. And after Matt Briggs’s diligent defensive duties allowed him to recover possession and play the ball up-field, newly introduced substitute Niall McManus carried it toward the Shrimpers byline before winning a free-kick just yards from the corner flag.
The freekick, taken wide right of the Southend box by Kuhl, was delivered deep across goal to an unmarked Craig who headed back across goal before Prior rose above a sea of bodies to knock the ball past Andeng-Ndi. The goal turned the atmosphere up a notch as the Wanderers players celebrated in front of the fans, with the hosts were ahead for the first time and just ten minutes to play.
Few chances presented themselves for the visitors as they sought to equalise though and the game fizzled out. A Hussin through ball almost found Cardwell before Male smothered, and a Miley shot from distance was once again safely caught by the Wanderer’s ‘keeper. To the relief of Wanderers fans and players the whistle blew shortly, after and a dramatic turnaround was complete.
A trip to the West Midlands awaits on Saturday 19 August, 11th place Solihull Moors will await a buoyant Wanderers side looking to build on an impressive first victory.