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Southend crawl away from the mire

Bristol City 0 Southend United 0 Attendance: 6,159
THE TRAFFIC jams a mile from Ashton Gate suggested that Bristolians were gathering to lend support to City in their quest to avoid relegation. But as the congestion cleared it became apparent that the cars were headed for Asda Superstore.

Those who preferred shopping to spectating got the best result, as Bristol City and Southend United, aided by a dead, crumbling pitch, combined to produce a dire mixture of hit-and-hope passing and desperate clearances. Southend, at least, will take consolation from a draw that extends their unbeaten run to five games, and the point that lifted them further away from the relegation vortex.

For Bristol City there was no such comfort. They began the day in 22nd position, the exact spot they "enjoyed" last November before they sacked Russell Osman and brought back Joe Jordan for a second term. Even the news of Swindon's defeat could not prevent a sour chorus of "Sack the Board" from a section of the fans.

Jordan will no doubt point to injuries and suspensions - the banned leading scorer Wayne Allison was missing yesterday - and he will certainly feel that luck has deserted his team just when they need it most. For even when they managed to get the ball in the net - Ian Baird turning home Junior Bent's overhead kick early in the second half - the strike was ruled offside.

But then a win would not have been merited by either side. True, Southend, masterfully prompted by an ageless Ronnie Whelan, looked more composed and cultured in the first half, but could not turn their possession into a worthwhile chance. The nearest they came was when the City defender Matt Bryant beat his own goalkeeper Keith Welch with an over-hit back- pass which shaved the post.

City's midfielders Brian Tinnion and Gary Owers worked manfully to get them back into the game, but Bent, as he does all too frequently, played like a man in a blindfold.

The second half improved in terms of chances, if not execution. Tinnion's drive was palmed away by the United keeper Simon Royce, but Rob Edwards volleyed over from less than six yards.

As the pitch continued to break up, as if on the last day of a Test match, control became even more of a lottery. Tony Battersby, Southend's on-loan signing from Sheffield United, created a couple of useful openings, but each time the pitch defeated his final efforts. Bristol's own pre-deadline acquisition from Arsenal, Mark Flatts, produced one good run and cross, but looked unlikely to make the same impact Andy Cole made when travelling the same route.

By the end even Whelan was hitting the underside of the stand roof with his shooting. The Bristol crowd drifted away in resigned mood, knowing their team face the play-off contenders Derby County, Tranmere Rovers and Reading in their last seven games. For City's assistant manager, John Gorman, once of Swindon, a second relegation looms.