Southend United 0
Wotton 57 pen, Reid 75
by RICK COWDERY
NEVER listen to those who say ‘never go back’.
Paul Wotton and Reuben Reid, two men who came through the ranks at Argyle and have since returned to help out their alma mater in troubled times, scored goals which gave Argyle back-to-back wins for the first time since mid October.
Wotton came off the substitutes’ bench to open the scoring for the second successive game, again from the penalty spot, after Joe Bryan had been upended by Biel Mohsni.
The early second-half strike was franked by Reid’s first ever Argyle goal 15 minutes from the end. The beauty of it – and its importance, given the night’s other results – was almost worth the 23-game wait.
Argyle manager John Sheridan had made two changes from the side that beat Fleetwood 2-1 on Saturday for the visit to the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy finalists.
Centre-back Anthony Charles returned in place of Wotton, while Paris Cowan-Hall was recalled on the right side of midfield to edge Andres Gurrieri on to the substitutes’ bench.
Southend’s Argyle connections are mostly off the field nowadays, most notably in the shape of manager Paul Sturrock and his assistant Graham Coughlan, the former having selected the latter as Wotton’s partner to such good effect for several seasons at the beginning of the century.
With ex-Pilgrim Chris Barker nursing a calf injury that threatens his chance of captaining the Shrimpers at Wembley, Southend’s only shirted former Home Park employee was on the bench, young defender Ryan Leonard.
Sturrock had been obliged to make one change to his side that had drawn 1-1 in the first leg of their home Westcountry double against Torquay on Saturday: with on-loan Stoke City midfielder Matt Lund injured, Ryan Cresswell returned from an injury of his own to fill his boots.
The opening quarter of an hour saw precious little penalty-area action at either end of the pitch.
The nearest Argyle came to opening the scoring in those early exchanges came when Cowan-Hall sent a header looping wide of the target after Bryan’s delicate free-kick delivery from the left.
That paved the way from some serious attacking by the yellow-shirted Greens, with Bryan nearly inducing a fatal slip from Mohsni at the near post and Reid threatening to profit from Onismor Bhasera’s long throw-in.
Reid and Banton then combined for the later to fire off a shot that was unfortunately too wide and too weak to trouble Daniel Bentley in the Southend goal.
All this time, of course, Southend were presenting no problem to Argyle, who kept their hosts tidily at arms’ length and, crucially, away from areas where they could deliver set-pieces.
The value in that tactic showed itself when the Shrimpers were presented with a fortunate free-kick on their right, from which Kevan Hurst’s swinging cross the far post was headed back across the goal by Cresswell only to plop harmlessly just wide with Cole treading water.
The Pilgrims should have taken the lead ten minutes from the interval when Mohsni misplaced a pass straight to Reid halfway inside the Southend half.
Reid sensibly played in Banton, who checked inside his defender and tucked a shot past Bentley. The ball was rolling sweetly into the net when Cowan-Hall decided to touch it on his way. From an obviously offside position.
The Pilgrims were obliged to shake things up when Charles declared himself unable to go on, bringing Wotton into the fray.
As half-time approached, Southend got more into their stride and the previously quiet Britt Assombalonga was profligate from five yards, heading another Hurst delivery over the crossbar when under little pressure.
Half-time arrived with no further alarms for either side and it was notable that, as the players went in, the Argyle players made a great show of supporting and obviously still troubled Cowan-Hall.
Southend’s dead-ball prowess showed itself again in the early stages of the second period when Freddy Eastwood zinged a free-kick form 25 yards just wide of Cole’s left-hand post with the Argyle ’keeper still flying across his goal as the ball riffled the side-netting.
The Pilgrims took the lead immediately afterwards when Bryan collected deep inside the Southend half and turned on the afterburners to speed into the Shrimpers’ penalty area and toe-poke the ball
past last-man Mohsni.
Regardless that Bryan would probably not have beaten the ball to the bye-line, Mohsni’s tackle was clumsy and nasty and referee James Linington pointed to the penalty spot.
No-one knows Wotton’s penalty preferences better than the two men in the Southend dug-out, and no-one knows they know better than the man with the ball at his feet. Hence, no trade-mark thunderstrike down the middle, but a thoughtfully placed shot low into the corner of Bentley’s left.
The goal lifted Wotton to joint-14th on the all-time Argyle scorers’ list alongside Bertie Bowler. Hats off to him.
Sturrock immediately changed his attack – not to the universal approval of the home crowd – by sending on Barry Corr and Gavin Tomlin for Eastwood and Assombalonga.
Tomlin was in the thick of the action straight away, curling a shot goalwards from the edge of the penalty area that required Cole to again take the airborne route to tip the ball wide.
Going behind, and with the play-off positions receding, Southend opened up and went on the offensive, which gave Argyle plenty of space to attack on the counter.
After several opportunities that came to nothing, Cowan-all slipped Reid away down the right-hand side. The Argyle striker still had it all to do, but he did it, cutting inside Sean Clohessy and planting the ball emphatically past Bentley.
Hurst responded for the home side with a rising shot that just cleared the Argyle crossbar but, in truth, that is as near as Southend got to pulling a goal back as the Pilgrims saw out the game comfortably.
Southend United (4-4-2):
17 Daniel Bentley; 2 Sean Clohessy (capt), 28 Bilel Mohsni, 6 Ryan Cresswell, 3 Anthony Straker; 14 Kevan Hurst, 29 Tamika Mkandawire, 26 Marc Laird, 27 Ben Reeves; 7 Freddy Eastwood (10 Barry Corr 62), 20 Britt Assombalonga (21 Gavin Tomlin 63). Substitutes (not used):
1 Paul Smith, 4 Michael Spillane, 18 Ryan Leonard, 19 John Spicer, 32 Seedy Njie.
1 Jake Cole; 4 Maxime Blanchard, Anthony Charles (15 Paul Wotton 38), 5 Guy Branston, 14 Onsimor Bhasera; 7 Paris Cowan-Hall (28 Ronan Murray 79), 10 Lee Cox, 19 Jason Banton (27 Andres Gurrieri 79), 6 Conor Hourihane (capt), 18 Joe Bryan; 24 Reuben Reid. Substitutes (not used):
8 Luke Young, 9 Nick Chadwick, 20 Rene Gilmartin, 29 Tyler Harvey.