Southend United 1
by RICK COWDERY
THE Pilgrims’ search for successive victories under Carl Fletcher continues, a year and a couple of weeks into his burgeoning managerial career.
Fletcher was denied by the man who brought him to Home Park and a man whose considerable achievements at Argyle he now seeks to emulate, Paul Sturrock.
Sturrock’s latest side hit back quickly after going behind to Alex MacDonald’s 50th-minute strike to level within five minutes through Britt Assombalonga.
There will be frustrations, however, that the Pilgrims failed to put the game to bed in a first half they dominated, creating a good handful of clear cut chances.
On another day, Bhasera alone might have had a hat-trick, such was his elusiveness to a Shrimpers defence who did not quite know how to cope with his awkward positioning.
Argyle had made two changes to the starting line-up that came from behind in such dramatic fashion to win 3-2 at Morecambe seven days earlier, both in the midfield.
Ross Jenkins, the on-loan Watford man who had begun the fightback from 2-0 down at the Globe Arena, was absent through an injury that the Argyle management team had successfully kept under wraps during the week. His place in the engine-room went to Luke Young.
The recall, after injury, of Bhasera on the left side was less of as surprise, but arguably hard lines on Argentinean Andres Gurrieri, who dropped to a bench chock full of firepower.
With fit-again Rhys Griffiths and Nick Chadwick back among extras that already included Paris Cowan-Hall and Curtis Nelson, there were more players who had scored for Argyle this season in the dug-outs when the game kicked of, than on the field.
Southend, captained by former Pilgrim Chris Barker, they were unchanged from the side that also staged a remarkable fightback the previous weekend to beat Exeter City 2-1.
There was a significant inclusion on the bench, with the Shrimpers' assistant-manager Graham Coughlan – a living Green legend, no less – called into the squad to do shadow duties alongside another Home Park exile, Ryan Leonard.
The Pilgrims started where they had left off in Lancashire, moving forward with calculation and purpose, and opened up Southend when Robbie Williams’ first-time cross found Bhasera unmarked on the penalty spot. Unfortunately for Argyle, the Zimbabwean international’s head failed to connect.
Southend worked their way into the match without causing any undue alarms to Argyle, who were nevertheless obliged to play their football in their own half for periods.
With Guy Madjo providing an offensive pivot, the Greens always looked threatening on the counter, and twice went close to opening the scoring, both times through Bhasera, whose roaming role caused early consternation to the Shrimpers less than composed defence.
The first was set up by Madjo, who easily bested Luke Prosser and held up his pass until Bhasera had joined the attack to loose off a low shot that Shrimpers goalkeeper Daniel Bentley grasped none too convincingly.
Then MacDonald, who had been keeping Barker on his toes, cut in from the right and squared a powerful cross that Bhasera again failed to connect with cleanly.
The first period was more than halfway through before Southend tested Jake Cole. The in-form Argyle goalkeeper saved well from former Torquay United man Eliot Benyon, who appeared to be offside when he struck his powerful goalbound shot.
The pattern of the match resumed, with Argyle knocking on the door and Southend keeping it wedged shut with their shoulder, waiting for the opportunity to break out.
On one such occasion, near to half-time, they spurned a glorious chance to break the deadlock when Sean Clohessy’s cross from the right was flicked on by Benyon to find the head of Assombalonga centre to goal, three yards out.
The Shripmers’ leading scorer’s header possessed neither the power nor the direction to beat Cole, who nevertheless had to make a fine save to keep the scoreline blank.
Argyle continued to carve out chances, almost at will.
Madjo’s influence on the game continued and he looked odds on to opening the scoring before the break when played in by Conor Hourihane, but he failed to strike the ball cleanly.
Then forward partner Warren Feeney beat Ryan Cresswell to get a good head on MacDonald’s right-wing cross but the ball flew just wide of Bentley’s right-hand piece.
Southend brought on Leonard for the second-half, replacing Dave Martin, during a half-time in which Argyle had emerged from the dressing-rooms early to take part in an extensive pre-half warm-up routine.
Leonard forced an early Southend corner from one of his trademark long throw-ins but Argyle’s sharpness was immediately evident and they deservedly took the lead moments later.
Madjo pulled wide to collect a pass and, instead of driving the ball across the face of the goal, he pulled it back for MacDonald, who took a touch and nutmegged Bentley in front of the Devonport End.
The lead did not last long. Leonard found Assombalonga in the channel, and the on-loan Watford forward beat Darren Purse with good skills before firing a shot through the exposed Cole at his near post.
The equaliser shifted the balance of the match firmly towards the visitors, who bombarded Argyle form left and right for a while.
The Pilgrims stood firm before Fletcher acquiesced to calls from the Devonport to “bring on the fireman” by introducing Griffiths for Madjo, and, at the same time, replacing Feeney with Cowan-Hall.
Sturrock did likewise, bringing on his match-winning strikers against the Grecians, Barry Corr and Freddy Eastwood.
The changes from both sides noticeably interrupted the game’s flow, which was probably to the advantage of the more direct Southend.
Corr was inches away from sliding in the go-head goal at the far-post after Assombalonga drove the ball across the Pilgrims’ goal.
Corr was later red carded after clashing with Darren Purse, becoming referee Steven Rushton’s seventh red card dismissal of the season.
With the man advantage, Argyle were caught twixt seeking the winner and not being caught on the break by Southend’s now lone striker, the dangerous Assombalonga.
The manager tried to force things by bringing on Nick Chadwick for the four minutes of injury-time, but the victory proved beyond the ever-improving Pilgrims.
Argyle (4-4-2): 1 Jake Cole; 2 Durrell Berry, 5 Darren Purse (capt), 4 Maxime Blanchard, 3 Robbie Williams; 32 Alex MacDonald (9 Nick Chadwick 90), 8 Luke Young, 6 Conor Hourihane, 14 Onismor Bhasera; 18 Guy Madjo (10 Rhys Griffiths 65), 11 Warren Feeney (7 Paris Cowan-Hall 65). Substitutes (not used): 13 Ollie Chenoweth (gk), 17 Curtis Nelson, 21 Matt Lecointe, 27 Andres Gurrieri.
Booked: Berry 59.
Southend United (4-4-2): 17 Daniel Bentley; 2 Sean Clohessy, 6 Ryan Cresswell, 16 Luke Prosser, 23 Chris Barker; 14 Kevan Hurst, 19 John Spicer (10 Barry Corr 68), 8 Michael Timlin, 11 David Martin (18 Ryan Leonard half-time); 24 Eliot Benyon (7 Freddy Eastwood 63), 20 Britt Assombalonga. Substitutes (not used): 3 Anthony Straker, 5 Graham Coughlan, 30 Alex Woodyard, 31 Ted Smith (gk).
Sent off: Corr 82.
Booked: Leonard 90.
Referee: Steven Rushton.
Attendance: 6,269 (237 away).