SOUTHEND United’s dreams of promotion were shattered by Burton Albion in an enthralling encounter at Roots Hall this afternoon.
Trailing 1-0 from the first leg of the play-off semi-final, the Shrimpers conceded the opening goal of the second leg before working their back level on aggregate with goals from Ryan Leonard and Anthony Straker.
However, Blues were unable to build on that momentum in the second half and a clinical close range finish Adam McGurk ensured it was the Brewers who went through to Wembley for a final against Fleetwood Town.
With Southend looking to get back level in the tie in the opening exchanges, Barry Corr headed a right wing cross from Will Atkinson straight at Burton goalkeeper Dean Lyness before the visiting shot-stopper did well to tip over a well struck long range shot from Kevan Hurst.
But, with 21 minutes on the clock, the Brewers took the lead to double their advantage on aggregate when Chris Hussey’s inswinging free-kick from the right hand side picked out an unmarked Dean Holness who sent a close range header crashing in to the back of the net.
Blues attempted to hit back with Corr having a low 12 yard shot smothered by Lyness but they did not have long to wait for a leveller as player of the season Leonard bagged a stunning equaliser in the 32nd minute, sending a well struck volley – from just inside the penalty area – flying in to the North Bank net.
Things soon got even better for the Shrimpers as they took the lead just seven minutes later when Michael Timlin’s deep, left wing cross was headed home at the far post by the recalled Straker.
Burton soon hit back and wasted a decent chance to score just before the break when Callum McFadzean volleyed over from 14 yards.
At the start of the second half, Leonard showed great speed to burst in to the left hand side of the penalty area before seeing his effort, from a narrow angle, parried to safety by Lyness.
But Burton then also came close to scoring when a brilliant last ditch challenge from Ben Coker diverted a low shot from McGurk wide of the left post.
However, the Brewers soon began to get back in to the game and worked their way back on to the score-sheet in the 69th minute, with McGurk on target.
The goal again came from a set piece as another Hussey free-kick from the right hand side broke to McGurk inside the penalty area and the striker made no mistake with an assured close range finish from 10 yards.
Blues, who had earlier brought Conor Clifford on for Timlin, responded by bringing on both Freddy Eastwood and Jack Payne in quick succession.
But the Shrimpers’ only real chance came deep in to the six minutes of added on time when Leonard fired wide of the left post from 14 yards.