Alessandra 52, Reid 68
Southend United 0
by Rick Cowdery
A STRONG second-half showing from the Pilgrims preserved their unbeaten home record and lifted them back into the Sky Bet League 2 top ten after they overcame stubborn resistance from ten-man Southend.
Goals from Reuben Reid – his fifth of the season – and man of the match Lewis Alessandra – his first – netted the victory against the Shrimpers, who had centre-back Cian Bolger dismissed after 15 minutes. He was lucky to last that long, too.
Initially, Argyle struggled to make their man advantage tell and went into the break having been in on the wrong end of a goal-less first half, but manager John Sheridan brought his tactical nous to bear during the interval and some small changes paid big dividends.
Forty-five minutes earlier, Sheridan had made two changes to his initial line-up, calling up forward Marvin Morgan for his first start of the season following some impressive contributions from the bench, and the big man continued that form with a magnificent display.
Lee Cox was recalled to the midfield after missing the previous week’s 2-1 defeat at Bury, where his introduction after half-time – along with Morgan and Ben Purrington – had significantly improved the Pilgrims.
Ollie Norburn and Deane Smalley were the two to make way, with Smalley’s absence from the bench suggesting that his stop-start season has again been affected by one of the niggling injuries which have beset him.
Southend’s starters included three central midfielders with Home Park connections including the Shrimpers’ Player of the Season for the last campaign, Ryan Leonard, who was the most defensive of a trio also comprising fellow former Pilgrims Conor Clifford and Will Atkinson
Morgan was soon to the fore, leaving Bolger in his wake as he sped down the left flank towards th Barn Park end, before cutting a dangerous ball back from the bye-line. Unfortunately, the invitation remained unopened.
Bolger was fortunateto remain on the field for as long as he did. Having been booked in the fourth minute, he hauled down Morgan nine minutes later only for referee Brendan Malone to wave play on.
There followed a quite bizarre two minutes, most of which was filled with Malone lecturing the pair after another coming together. It had little effect on Bolger, who almost immediately slid in on Morgan and received a second yellow card.
It was impossible to keep Morgan out of the action, at either end of the field. After he had charged down goalkeeper Daniel Bentley’s kick-out, Southend substitute Adam Thompson went down in the Argyle penalty area under one of his challenges. Malone looked ready to award a penalty, but was seemingly dissuaded by his assistant on the Lyndhurst side.
Being numerically deficient did not faze the Shrimpers and Argyle struggled to take advantage of their visitors’ self-inflicted misfortune. A half which entailed a lot of chasing yellow shirts realised only an always high shot from Alessandra, after Leonard stepped on the ball to concede possession, and a header over by Carl McHugh from Jason Banton’s free-kick until injury-time, when Reuben Reid flashed a header wide after another smart free-kick delivery, this time by McHugh.
Sheridan used half-time to good effect, reshaping his side, pushing Alessandra further up and putting Banton into a free role behind a now front three. The full-backs were also encouraged to press on and use the full width of the pitch.
All the tweaking came together within eight minutes of the re-start. Kelvin Mellor made a fantastic run down the right-hand side, cut inside from the bye-line, leaving Leonard and Luke Prosser on their backsides, and teed up Alessandra.
It would be simplifying things to say that all Alessandra had to do was get the ball on target, but Mellor’s superb groundwork meant that the Pilgrims’ number seven had plenty of time to measure a fine stroke into the corner of Bentley’s goal.
The switch to the system and Southend’s need to chase a point opened the match up for the Pilgrims, and McHugh was denied from doubling the lead only by a fine save by Bentley to keep out a firm downward header from Alessandra’s cross.
The Pilgrims’ second was not long in coming, however, and this time Alessandra was the provider, his cross from the right finding Reid perfectly positioned to power a header past Bentley, bouncing it in off the turf.
Two goals and one man to the good, Argyle saw the game out with few worries to end the day three points outside the play-off zone.
That they have reached such a position without yet having really hit their straps and shown the consistency that their manager constantly preaches should be viewed as a positive.
Argyle (4-4-2): 23 Luke McCormick; 2 Kelvin Mellor, 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 29 Peter Hartley, 16 Carl McHugh; 7 Lewis Alessandra, 4 Lee Cox (6 Ollie Norburn 70), 26 Anthony O’Connor, 8 Jason Banton (19 Nathan Thomas 86); 9 Reuben Reid, 10 Marvin Morgan (14 Tyler Harvey 70). Substitutes: 1 James Bittner (gk), 3 Ben Purrington, 11 Dominic Blizzard, 24 River Allen.
Booked: Cox 28, O’Connor 29, Morgan 58, Hartley 67, Thomas 88, McHugh 90.
Southend United (4-5-1): 1 Daniel Bentley; 2 John White (capt), 6 Luke Prosser, 15 Cian Bolger, 3 Ben Coker; 14 Kevan Hurst (5 Adam Thompson 16), 12 Will Atkinson, 18 Ryan Leonard, 16 Conor Clifford, 11 Myles Weston (7 David Worrall 76); 10 Barry Corr (17 Shaquile Coulthirst 64). Substitutes (not used): 9 Lee Barnard, 19 Jack Payne, 21 Paul Smith (gk), 22 Gary Deegan.
Sent off: Bolger 15.
Booked: Bolger 4, Thompson 44.
Referee: Brendan Malone.
Attendance: 6,247 (258 away).