SOUTHEND United’s push for the play-offs suffered a further blow with a 2-0 defeat at Bristol Rovers this afternoon.
The seventh placed Shrimpers had been looking to close the gap on the top six at the Memorial Stadium.
But Rovers had other ideas and two goals inside the opening 31 minutes saw the home-side maintain their own pursuit of a top six finish.
The Pirates’ first goal came inside the opening minute courtesy an impressive long range strike from Billy Bodin.
The midfielder cut in off the right flank and, after being allowed far too much time and space, he drilled an impressive 25 yard shot into the bottom left hand corner of the net.
Moments later, Chris Lines fired over the crossbar when well placed before Cristian Montano wasted a huge chance to make it 2-0 as he dragged a left footed shot wide of the right post from eight yards.
Blues soon hit back with Simon Cox volleying straight at Rovers goalkeeper Joe Lumley from the edge of the penalty area before Marc-Antoine Fortune also fired straight at the shot-stopper after creating an opportunity with a neat piece of skill.
Rovers replied with Rory Gaffney selfishly ignoring two unmarked team-mates to have a shot deflected wide by Shrimpers skipper Anton Ferdinand.
After surviving the scare, play soon switched back to the other end of the field with Fortune heading just over before Rovers got back on top with Montano having a 12 yard shot deflected into the grateful gloves of Smith.
But, with 31 minutes on the clock, Rovers doubled their lead with a similar goal to their first as Gaffney sent a low 25 yard shot into the bottom left hand corner via the inside of the post.
The strike forced Blues boss Phil Brown into action with a 38th minute double substitution with Nile Ranger replacing Fortune in attack and Stephen McLaughlin coming on for Will Atkinson.
The changes saw Michael Timlin swap onto the right wing but it was the Pirates who continued to threaten with Montano and Gaffney being denied by Smith just before the break.
Smith also did superbly well to tip another effort from Gaffney over the crossbar at the start of the second half before he also smothered a close range header from Luke James.
The saves kept the Shrimpers in the game and in the 49th minute, they wasted a golden chance to score themselves as Ranger headed Jason Demetriou’s right wing cross over the crossbar from six yards.
A relieved Rovers fought back with James having a deflected 12 yard shot strike the inside of the left post before Blues also came close to scoring when Simon Cox’s 20 yard free-kick was impressively pushed wide of the right post by Lumley.
In a further bid to get back into the game, Shrimpers boss Brown made his third change in the 68th minute with Theo Robinson coming on to replace Timlin.
Robinson soon saw a curling shot saved by Lumley but Blues were unable to get back into the game late meaning they remain four points below the play-offs having now also played a game more than sixth placed Millwall.