As is often the case at the start of the season the games are coming thick and fast. The Kassam hosts its first league match of the season with the visit of a Southend side who, much like Saturday's opponents, are eying promotion.
They have not made a good start though. A 4-0 League Cup defeat at the hands of Championship side Peterborough is disappointing but perhaps understandable, but Saturday's home defeat at the hands of Accrington Stanley is probably not how Shrimpers fans envisioned their season starting. However, reports suggest that Southend were perhaps a little unlucky to come away with nothing, and it is always easy to underestimate 'the likes of' Accrington. Southend have been busy this summer, bringing in a host of impressive signings. Local hero Freddy Eastwood has returned, and Ryan Cresswell, Anthony Straker, Kevan Hurst and Gavin Tomlin are all respected at this level.
It has been a settled start to the season for Oxford and it seems likely that there will be few changes to the side that won at Bristol Rovers. Ian Lenagan's new fitness measures appear to have made a difference already, as the same group of players that played 120 minutes against Bournemouth last week were able to close out Saturday's match comfortably and professionally. It's still early days this season, of course, but positive signs nonetheless.
Paul Sturrock's Southend have been a thorn in our side over the last couple of seasons. Five times the two sides have met and five times Southend have emerged victorious, their organised (some would go so far as to say 'cynical') style of play proving too much for us on every occasion. Wilder has had plenty of occasions to figure out a tactic to overcome our biggest bogey team of the last couple of seasons, but as of yet has been unable to solve the riddle.
It should represent the kind of physical battle that James Constable relishes, though he has yet to really find his stride at this stage in the season, and it is certainly not a match for some of the more lightweight players in the side (eg Tommy Craddock). Concerns that the skillful Forster-Caskey will take a battering in League Two were raised with exactly this type of fixture in mind, but the presence of Adam Chapman in a holding midfield position could be the ace up our sleeves. His calming presence in front of the defence could be just what we need to stamp our authority in the middle of the park – where we have often been dominated by the presence of Ryan Hall for Southend. The calm assuredness of Michael Duberry at the back will be a big miss, and it was always such an important asset for us last season in this type of match, but we should have faith in the defence which has played 210 minutes of competitive football without conceding so far this season.
From the Vaults
Oxford United v Southend United, 24th August 1996
The season was young when Southend came to the Manor for our first home league game of the season. We had returned to the second tier after two seasons away and began with a trip to QPR, freshly relegated from the Premier League. Southend had been mainstays at this level since their promotion in 1991, but their star was falling and they arrived at Oxford with a season of struggle ahead of them...
You can find this and many other old Oxford matches on our Video Vault page.