SOUTHEND United’s clash at Plymouth Argyle may have failed to have lived up to its pre match billing of a battle between two of the basement league’s most in form sides.
But the 1-1 draw was still an important and impressive share of the spoils for Phil Brown’s promotion pushing Shrimpers.
The evenly contested encounter was surprisingly short of entertainment and excitement as both sides found it hard to create clear cut chances from open play.
Daniel Bentley was called upon to make two fine saves from set pieces in the early exchanges before he was finally beaten by a deflected Dominic Blizzard shot midway through the second half.
However, the way Blues battled back from going behind was arguably the most pleasing factor of their entire afternoon as, within three minutes, Kevan Hurst had netted a well taken equaliser.
That ultimately secured Southend what could prove to be a precious point and it was obtained despite the team not being at their best.
In their previous outing, Blues had brilliantly brushed Championship club Millwall aside 4-1 in an outstanding, all conquering FA Cup display.
But Saturday’s clash at Home Park showed a different side to the Shrimpers as they fought hard, refused to give in, stuck together and were still able to avoid defeat against a strong side, even though they were below par.
As a result, fifth placed Southend have now been beaten just once in their last 14 outings and remain only two points behind the automatic promotion places.
The league remains incredibly tight and several other sides will also be thinking how they can mount a challenge for a top seven finish during the second half of the season.
But, having shown both their quality and character in their last two outings, Blues are certainly in with a real chance of seeing of their rivals and securing a return to League One.
For that to happen however, the next few weeks could well prove crucial – both on and off the pitch.
First of all, the Shrimpers face promotion rivals Chesterfield in an important clash at Roots Hall this weekend.
After that comes the eagerly anticipated FA Cup visit of Hull City before games against two more of the top 10 – Dagenham & Redbridge and Newport County.
Following that, the transfer window will have slammed shut and Blues will definitely have needed to have strengthened their squad by then.
Table-topping Scunthorpe United have brought in striker Paddy Madden from Yeovil Town in a deal worth £300,000 and all of the other sides gunning for promotion are also likely to bolster their options.
Blues must do the same, albeit at a lower price, to keep pace with those around them to soften the blow of any injury or suspension that may occur.
Skipper John White was a big miss at Plymouth Argyle on Saturday and, while Ryan Leonard did well in his place at right-back, he was a huge miss in the centre of the park.
Leonard’s drive, energy and enthusiasm in midfield has set the tone for the Shrimpers in recent weeks.
And Blues did not look the same without him in that role on his return to Home Park.
Boss Phil Brown is therefore likely to explore other alternatives ahead of the Chesterfield game and, the job he has done at the club, means he deserves to be backed in his pursuit of more players.
If that does not happen then the Shrimpers run the risk of running out of steam and fading out of the race for promotion during the second half of the season for the third year in succession.