Southend United 1 (Cox 24) Charlton 1 (Crofts 89).
Kevin Nolan reports from Roots Hall.
Already struggling with the lengthy absence of several key players since taking over at Charlton, Karl Robinson faced fresh problems in naming his side for this difficult New Years Eve assignment by the seaside. Injured skipper Johnnie Jackson was unavailable while teenage sensation Ademola Lookman was forced to withdraw due to "illness", a sudden virus which is expected to also rule him out of Monday's home game against Bristol Rovers. You just can't mess around with these mysterious bugs, which waft in on the draft caused by transfer windows being carelessly left open. Rest is the only cure.
Lookman is apparently on his way to Everton, where rumours that he's been guaranteed a first team place should be taken with a large pinch of salt. Hardened old codger Ronald Koeman is unlikely to be buffaloed by a promising kid's agent into such a foolhardy commitment. More probable is a place in the Toffees' U-23 side, with appearances in Cup competitions an occasional sop. More than one aspiring hotshot's career has atrophied in similar circumstances because you know what George Gerschwin had to say on the subject...fish gotta swim... birds gotta fly... footballers gotta football. Let's hope the money makes it worthwhile.
At left back for the Addicks at Roots Hall, meanwhile, was Morgan Fox, currently linked with a move to Sheffield Wednesday. Responsible pro Fox had typically resisted the germs which laid Lookman low and gamely put himself on the line for the usual hate-filled garbage he receives regularly from the anonymity of the stands. It drove Simon Francis from The Valley but he did pretty well for himself elsewhere. The intrepid Fox will leave with not so much as a backward glance at his faceless tormentors. As with Francis before him, the last laugh will more than likely be his.
The vacuum left by Lookman's inevitable departure was promptly filled by the latest cab off the Sparrows Lane rank. Up stepped Joe Aribo at Southend to mark his first start with a man-of-the-match performance. An impressive blend of industry and skill, he worked tirelessly at both ends of the field, never allowed his head to drop and supplied the last gasp assist for Andrew Crofts' dramatic equaliser. By which time he had been joined from the bench by subs Karlan Ahearn-Grant and Josh Umerah to give the Addicks irresistibly youthful momentum as the increasingly desperate Shrimpers wilted.
Twenty minutes from time, Aribo had cut in from the right to beat outstanding goalkeeper Ted Smith with a deliciously curled shot which heartbreakingly rebounded back off the bar. At the time, it seemed possible that we'd seen Charlton's best chance come and go but Aribo was having none of it. Driving powerfully into the home penalty area, he picked up a shrewd pass from Jordan Botaka, another high-impact substitute, and crossed hard and low. Meeting the ball inches above the turf, skipper Crofts buried a volley off the underside of the bar and into the net behind the valiant Smith.
On an early afternoon of lusty shooting, Stephen McLaughlin provided the first spectacular strike, with a 30-yard stunner which whistled inches wide as Dillon Phillips scrambled helplessly across his line. Josh Magennis replied for the visitors by spinning on to Crofts' pass to bring Smith down low to his left to save his firm drive.
Midway through the first half, prolific striker Simon Cox combined accuracy with power to fire United in front. Picking up the ball with back to goal as Wordsworth's corner was headed clear by Ezri Konsa, he skilfully disguised his intentions from the shadowing Magennis before turning sharply to place a vicious left-footed shot beyond Phillips' groping left hand. Before the interval, Fox cleverly slipped Aribo in to sting Smith's palms with a rising effort while, in an absorbing duel of young keepers, Phillips responded with a fine save from Anthony Wordsworth's corner- bound effort.
Resuming with added purpose, the Addicks began to take over. Magennis' pass set up Ulvestad to shoot wide, then Nicky Ajose's free kick, following Michael Timlin's foul on the persistent Aribo,was met at the far post by commanding centre back Jorge Texeira, meatily headed down but alertly flicked over the bar on the bounce by Smith. McLaughlin replied for the Blues with another example of his potent shooting but unluckily hit the woodwork with Phillips beaten.
As the visitors turned the screw, a neat one-two between Botaka, an effective replacement for the disappointing Ajose, and Konsa opened up the Shrimpers' defence for Fredrik Ulvestad to shoot on the run. Smith reacted smartly with a one-handed parry, which almost paled into insignificance alongside the marvellous save the keeper made to deny Fox. Meeting Aribo's partially cleared corner, the left back popped up on the right side to unleash a blockbuster destined for the top right corner until Smith twisted acrobatically to fingertip it over the bar.
Despite missing two point-blank chances, the first of them aimed too close to Phillips by Will Atkinson, the second headed weakly wide by Marc-Antoine Fortune, in-form Southend seemed to have scraped over the line en route to their fourth consecutive league victory. Their failure to add a second goal came back to haunt them, however, against a side which has made a habit this season of late equalisers. And they reckoned without either the indefatigable Aribo or the sheer exuberance of youth. Neither of them were in a mood to be denied.
Southend: Smith, Demetriou, Thompson, Ferdinand, Timlin, Atkinson, Leonard, Wordsworth, McLaughlin (McGlashan 81), Cox (Ranger 73), Fortune. Not used: Bexon,White, O'Neill, King, Bridge.
Charlton: Phillips, Konsa, Bauer, Texeira, Fox (Ahearne-Grant 77), Aribo, Crofts, Ulvestad (Umerah 86), Chicksen, Ajose (Botaka 64), Magennis. Not used: Mitov, Foley, Johnson, Lennon.
Booked: Bauer, Fox, Umerah.
Referee: Mark Heywood.
Att: 10,329 (1,847 visiting).