Southend win play-off final

Lincoln 0 Southend 2 (after extra-time)

Lincoln 0 Southend 2 (after extra-time)

Southend will be playing in League One next season after goals from Freddy Eastwood and Duncan Jupp gave them an extra-time win over Lincoln in the Coca-Cola League Two play-off final.

The 90 minutes had been evenly contested, but Keith Alexander’s men tired visibly in the additional half-hour and it was no surprise when the Shrimpers claimed victory at the Millennium Stadium.

Prolific striker Eastwood broke the deadlock after 105 minutes, before Jupp sealed the win with his first goal of the season five minutes later.

Both defences excelled during the 90 minutes – with Lincoln’s Jamie McCombe and Southend centre-back Adam Barrett outstanding – but it was Steve Tilson’s side who made it third time lucky in Cardiff after successive defeats in LDV Vans Trophy finals during the last 14 months.

By contrast, the Imps saw their team miss out in the play-offs for the third season in a row.

Lincoln named the same team that overcame Macclesfield in the semi-final, while Southend made one change.

Wayne Gray replaced Lawrie Dudfield in attack for the Shrimpers, who beat Northampton over two legs to reach Cardiff.

Lincoln made their intentions clear from the beginning, launching several long balls behind the Southend full-backs and using Gary Taylor-Fletcher’s huge throw-ins to test goalkeeper Darryl Flahavan.

But it was the Essex club – playing the neater football – who created the better chances early in the match.

From Nicky Nicolau’s seventh-minute cross, Lincoln keeper Alan Marriott could only palm the ball to Carl Pettefer, whose goalbound shot from six yards was blocked by Kevin Sandwith.

Eleven minutes later, Pettefer played in the over-lapping Jupp on the right, and Lincoln defender McCombe did superbly to hack away the Scot’s low cross with Gray lurking just behind him.

But Shrimpers ’keeper Flahavan looked vulnerable when trying to claim Lincoln crosses and throw-ins.

In the 29th minute, he and defender Spencer Prior made a mess of dealing with Taylor-Fletcher’s throw from the right, but luckily for Tilson’s team Mark Bentley – who had been booked shortly before for a foul on Ben Futcher – made a brilliant goal-line clearance before Imps striker Francis Green could turn the ball in.

It was Prior’s turn to rescue Southend nine minutes later, the former Norwich defender on hand to challenge Simon Yeo before he could shoot and then to block Richard Butcher’s effort after the ball had run free.

Shortly afterwards, Gareth McAuley believed he had been held by Prior as he tried to reach Taylor-Fletcher’s left-wing cross, but referee Martin Atkinson allowed play to continue.

Eastwood had been quiet until that point, but his intelligent reverse pass two minutes before the break allowed Gray to send in a dangerous cross that Peter Gain did well to head away.

Eastwood’s influence increased after half-time. In the 52nd minute, his fierce low shot was deflected wide of the left post by McCombe, and four minutes later Eastwood miskicked inside the penalty area after Lincoln had made a mess of clearing the ball.

But back came Lincoln. Butcher sent Yeo in on goal with a fine pass from midfield, and the Imps’ top scorer struck a hard left-foot shot that Flahavan did well to save at his right post.

At the other end, Eastwood’s touch and awareness created a chance for Bentley, but his 22-yard shot lacked power and Marriott made a comfortable save.

Flahavan’s vulnerability to high balls was exposed again in the 71st minute - but once more his defence bailed him out.

The Southend ’keeper missed Sandwith’s left-wing cross but when the ball broke to Francis Green, Che Wilson was positioned perfectly to clear his goalbound shot.

McCombe was having a fine game at the back for Lincoln and saved them again three minutes later, turning Kevin Maher’s dangerous right-wing cross behind for a corner.

Lincoln pushed forward once more, Green producing an adroit overhead flick for Yeo, only for Flahavan to push the ball away as the striker prepared to head it in.

Then Green escaped down the right and it required a great interception from Jupp to prevent Yeo reaching the ball at the near post.

Green was involved again in the 87th minute, setting up Butcher to hit a sweet 25-yard shot that was only narrowly over the bar.

Southend thought they should have had a penalty a minute from time when Bentley fell under pressure from Paul Morgan – but referee Atkinson disagreed.

Southend looked the stronger side in extra-time. Nicolau collected the ball inside the Lincoln area after Eastwood’s shot had bounced off substitute Dudfield, but slid a low shot just past the left post.

And after Marriott had turned Dudfield’s shot behind for a corner, Southend deservedly went in front.

Prior’s header from Nicolau’s corner was cleared off the line by substitute Matthew Bloomer, but Dudfield was able to touch the rebound to Eastwood, who smashed it home from four yards for his 24th goal of the campaign.

And Tilson’s men secured promotion with 10 minutes of extra-time remaining. With Lincoln caught up field, Eastwood burst clear and fed Jupp on the right, who slid the ball in the bottom left corner from 10 yards.

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