SOUTHEND United dug deep to secure a determined goalless draw at high-flying Torquay United this afternoon.
But the creditable share of the spoils all but ended Blues’ slight hopes of automatic promotion this season.
Paul Sturrock’s side dominated large spells of the second half at a wet and windy Plainmoor Stadium.
However, they were unable to break through a well drilled Torquay defence and that left Southend six points behind the third placed Gulls with just three games to go.
Blues can certainly be buoyed by their performance though and they started the game in steady fashion.
As a result, with 15 minutes on the clock, recalled striker Neil Harris charged down the centre of the park before curling a long range shot straight at Torquay goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik.
But the home-side soon hit back with Damon Lathrope forcing shot stopper Cameron Belford in to action with a skimming effort from 25 yards.
In reply, Michael Timlin then volleyed over a deep right wing cross from Sean Clohessy but there was little else to excite the crowd in the opening exchanges.
Torquay momentarily threatened in the 32nd minute when Kevin Nicholson’s left wing corner was headed against the outside of the right post by Ryan Jarvis.
And, three minutes later, Southend were also denied by the woodwork as Ryan Hall curled a 25 yard free-kick against the top of the crossbar.
Having survived the scares, the Gulls hit back with Blues skipper Chris Barker having to slice a fine right wing centre from Jarvis over his own crossbar from inside the six yard box.
Blues then had another let off on the stroke of half-time when a grounded Bilel Mohsni lashed out at Joe Oastler and forced the full-back to the floor with his outstretched right arm.
But referee Mark Heywood opted to show the relieved Frenchman just a yellow card.
Torquay threatened at the start of the second period, with Jarvis firing inches over the crossbar from 14 yards after Eunan O’Kane’s left wing cross had only been half cleared.
Moments later, Rene Howe stabbed the ball wide of the left post from eight yards but Blues hit back in the 55th minute with Timlin dragging an effort wide of the right upright from the edge of the
Torquay replied with the physical Howe again firing off target from 14 yards but Southend soon began to get on top and enjoyed a sustained period of pressure.
During that spell, Sturrock’s side came close to opening the scoring in the 68th minute when Timlin rolled the ball through to Mohsni but his attempted chip was parried to safety by Olejnik.
A dangerous, looping header from Mark Phillips was then cleared away from Harris by Mark Ellis as Torquay stood firm.
In a further bid to make a breakthrough, Paul Sturrock brought Freddy Eastwood on for Harris in the 80th minute.
But it was Torquay who almost took the lead just two minutes later when Jarvis’s left wing cross bounced off Phillips before being smartly saved by Belford.
With play soon switching back to the other end of the field, Blues had what appeared to be a strong shout for a penalty turned down when referee Mark Heywood chose to ignore what appeared to be a
two handed push on Phillips.
Southend were then left frustrated again in the dying seconds as a sliding Eastwood just failed to connect with a left wing cross from Hall and that ensured the game ended goalless.