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Southend United 2, Leyton Orient 2
BEN Reeves fired Southend United to Wembley and the final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy with a dramatic stoppage time strike against Leyton Orient at Roots Hall tonight.
The southern section final seemed to be heading to penalties with the O’s leading 2-1 on the night with 90 minutes on the clock.
However, Reeves had other ideas and, after being teed up by a low, left wing cross from Kevan Hurst, the on loan Southampton midfielder guided the ball in to the back of the net from six yards.
Blues had taken a 1-0 lead in to the second leg after grinding out a hard fought win at Brisbane Road.
But Orient wiped that narrow advantage out after just eight minutes when Dean Cox’s low right wing cross picked out Sean Batt who nipped in ahead of the returning Mark Phillips and steered a low volley in to the back of the net from eight yards.
Moments later, David Mooney curled a 20 yard shot inches past the right post before his strike partner, Batt, fired a low effort from a similar distance straight at Blues goalkeeper Paul Smith.
With Orient remaining on top they came close to doubling their lead in the 26th minute when a Cox free-kick picked out Mooney who sent a looping header on to the roof of the net.
Having survived the scare, Southend hit back and soon registered their first shot on target as Reeves sent a low drive in to the grateful gloves of O’s goalkeeper Jamie Jones from the edge of the penalty area.
But, with the O’s continuing to enjoy more of the ball, Blues boss Paul Sturrock opted to make his first substitution of the evening after just 36 minutes with Barry Corr coming on to replace Alex Woodyard.
The tactical change led to Reeves dropping in to a deeper midfield role with Corr partnering Assombalonga in attack.
That gave Southend more of a solid look as Assombalonga had previously been quite isolated in attack but they still struggled to create clear cut chances.
Orient attempted to make the most of that and, in the 58th minute, they had strong appeals for a penalty waved away by referee Andy Woolmer when Cox went to ground inside the area while under pressure from Matthew Lund.
Blues tried to immediately make the most of the let off with Assombalonga dragging a 20 yard shot wide of the right post from 20 yards.
But Sturrock’s side did not have long to wait for an equalising goal as, with 61 minutes on the clock, a left wing free kick from Hurst was headed down in to the path of Corr who smashed a well struck volley in to the roof of the net from 10 yards.
Moments later, Assombalonga headed a right wing cross from Reeves straight at Jones when he might have done better and Orient replied with the lively Batt working his way past Luke Prosser before having a low shot diverted wide for a corner by the legs of Smith.
However, Smith was beaten again in the 72nd minute when he stayed rooted on his line as Leon McSweeney’s left wing cross picked out the head of Mooney who nodded home from eight yards.
Orient continued to look dangerous with Batt having a well struck shot smothered by Smith before the striker sent a low centre from Cox against the top of the crossbar from close range.
The visitors remained on top with Lloyd James firing wide of the right post from 25 yards and Cook curling a free-kick straight at Smith.
But Southend stood firm and unbelievably netted in stoppage time with Reeves converting from close range to send Blues to Wembley for the first time in 83 years.