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Torquay United wrench win from Southend United's grasp
THE League Two form book was blown away at Torquay United on Saturday as Southend United sunk to an unexpected 1-0 defeat.
The Shrimpers went into the game sitting third in the League Two table, with six wins in their last seven games and unbeaten since losing at Newport County in late October.
In contrast, Torquay sat bottom of the standings and had triumphed just once in their previous 12 games.
But such is the nature of football at this level that nothing could be taken for granted at Plainmoor and that is how it proved as the Gulls deservedly secured all three points from a mostly drab and dreary encounter.
The first half in particularly was especially dull and the entire game was ultimately condensed into a decisive rare few minutes of excitement during the second period.
First, Blues wasted a superb opportunity to open the scoring when an unmarked Barry Corr headed Kevan Hurst’s right-wing cross well wide of the target from close range.
And, just 40 seconds later, Torquay hit back to grab the only goal of the game with John Marquis drilling home a low, left-footed shot.
Had Corr managed to hit the back of the net then things could well have worked out differently for the Shrimpers, especially up against a side so short of form and confidence.
But, in truth, Blues got exactly what they deserved in Devon after producing a strangely subdued and often thoughtless performance in the blustery conditions.
The Shrimpers played with the wind behind them in the first half and, in hindsight, should definitely have made more of that big advantage.
However, in the second half it was clear to see that any long balls forward led to quite farcical scenes, epitomised by Luke Prosser having to head clear his own attempted clearance.
Yet rather bizarrely, Southend continued to play quite a direct style and, subsequently, failed to hold on to the ball and build up spells of prolonged possession and pressure.
That, in turn, led to the defeat but, despite the surprise scoreline, it should not be greeted with an out-pouring of abuse or criticism.
Yes, Southend were desperately poor at the weekend, but that will undoubtedly happen at various stages throughout the season.
No team, especially in League Two, will be at their best throughout the entire campaign and what matters most now is how the Shrimpers react to the setback.
A woeful performance in Wales against Newport County led to Blues going seven matches unbeaten and boss Phil Brown will be hoping for something similar this time around.
An unbeaten run coming to an end is often followed by a slightly sticky patch but, such is the closeness of League Two right now that Southend simply cannot afford to let that happen here.
Rochdale at Roots Hall this Friday is therefore a huge match for the Shrimpers but at least boss Brown does have plenty of options.
Ryan Leonard and Will Atkinson, two of Blues’ best and most consistent performers this term, could both well be back in the starting line-up after missing out at the weekend, while plenty of other tough decisions will need to be made.
Striker Craig Reid was left out of the squad at Torquay and – with Cauley Woodrow now back from suspension – someone else is now also likely to be dropped. That again shows Brown has done well to create such competition for places on limited resources.
But it is now the character of those players which is about to be tested.
And Southend must ensure that the below par display at Torquay becomes just a one-off if they are to continue their charge for promotion during the second half of the season.