Saturday 19th August 2017, 1500 KO
Southend United FC vs Plymouth Argyle FC
For the first time I’ve decided to put together a report on a Football League match this weekend. This isn’t something I’ll be doing regularly, however, as a distance Argyle supporter based in London there aren’t too many chances to watch my home town team. I’ve never been to Roots Hall, and I hear the pier out at Southend-on-Sea is just grand. So, all those things added together have persuaded me to give this a go. The first, most noticeable difference is the cost – obviously. Instead of having a good afternoon out for under twenty quid, I’ve already forked out a tidy fifty for the train to Essex and my ticket (£22 plus booking fee).
The train out to Prittlewell was a trial in itself. As anyone living in South West London knows, the deepest circle of hell is currently reserved for those people who have to travel through London Waterloo. So it was with much relief when after two hours I got off the train in deepest Essex. Prittlewell is just an average triple jumper’s PB from Southend’s home ground of Roots Hall, and the obligatory stop en route is The Fish House, where a battered sausage, chips, gravy and Diet Coke can be purchased for £6.05. Even two hours before kick off the place was rammed with supporters, both home and away.
Roots Hall itself is an unusual ground, built in what seems like a natural defile. You genuinely don’t realise you’re at a stadium at all until you stumble into the turnstiles, but I like that about a football ground. It feels part of the community, and almost seems to organically grow between the houses and pubs around it.
The other noticeable difference is that I am a lot further from the action for photos. Although through the majesty of unreserved seating I managed to get into the front rown, compared to the generosity I’ve experienced from non-league clubs in allowing me pitchside, the professional game is distinctly less accessible. Of course, considering they have actual full time photographers there, who aren’t running tinpot blogs, that’s quite understandable. When I took my seat next to my friend (a fellow Cornish exile in London) he wasn’t delighted to hear that since I’ve been blogging I’m yet to see an away win…
Southend United have entered this season roundly expected to comfortably secure a mid-table berth, and their early season form bears that out. A highly unexpected, but deserved victory against title favourites Blackburn was swiftly followed by a loss to League Two relegation fodder Newport County in the Carabao Cup, and a five nil shellacking by the dross that is Rotherham United. Under the incandescent Phil Brown – who surely gets his sunbed settings from Donald Trump – Southend have signed Premier League experience this summer in the form of Michael Kightly and Michael Turner. They’re also bolstered by the return of Nile Ranger – a man who has racked up more court appearances than all Joe Pesci’s characters put together.
There is an undercurrent of Argyle interest in Southend, with former Plymouth player, and Ivybridge pupil, Ryan Leonard becoming only the second ever Southend player to scoop three Player of the Season awards. Additionally, Argyle legend Graham Coughlan now works for the Shrimpers. The thousand or so travelling members of the Green Army giving him a rousing round of applause – recognising a man who was voted into the greatest Argyle team of all time.
As for Argyle, they have acquitted themselves well so far on their return to League One. An anti-climactic away loss to Peterborough is no embarrassment given the strength of their squad this year, whilst a 2-0 win at home to Charlton showed that the Pilgrims will have no problems competing at this level. An unfortunate injury suffered by Ryan Taylor leaves them looking short up front, but with Graham Carey, Gregg Wylde and Joel Grant providing the ammunition, there should be enough good chances for whoever ends up leading the line.
Following the tragic events in Barcelona, a minute’s silence was undertaken immaculately, save for the clicking of a photographer (not me, thankfully!) who hastily stopped when he realised the noise he was making. With the reflection observed, referee Dean Whitestone got us underway.
Southend quickly set up camp within the Argyle half, and occupied it better than the Roman Army would have done for the first 45. The first presentable chance came in the 6th minute for Simon Cox, created by good work from Marc-Antoine Fortuné down the right. Fortuné’s cross found Cox in acres of space but he contrived to head over the bar.
Almost immediately afterwards Graham Carey, Argyle’s livewire Irish midfielder – better than Zidane, y’know – snapped a half-volley wide from the edge of the area. Unfortunately for Argyle, that was as involved as Carey would be in the first half, as he was well shackled by centre backs John White and Anton Ferdinand.
In fact, that was as good as it got for Argyle at all before the half time break, as a minute later Gary Sawyer gave the ball away, and was then easily beaten for pace by the rapid Jermaine McGlashan. McGlashan crossed the ball, and a solid clearing header by Argyle centre back Sonny Bradley smashed past Luke McCormick into the Plymouth net. The song suggests that if you threw a brick at Mr Bradley he’ll head the f****r back. Sadly, football is played with, well, footballs and not bricks, and Sonny heads those into his own goal.
It could have been two shortly afterwards, when Plympton’s own Ryan Leonard broke well from midfield and fired over from twenty yards. Leonard was causing problems all half, seemingly first to every ball which dropped between the centre circle and Argyle’s box.
On 25 minutes, David Fox was caught in possession by Fortuné, whose physical presence caused problems all game. He’s so compact and strong that both centre backs found him impossible to shake off the ball. Fox hauled Fortuné down, earning a yellow card into the bargain. It was probably Fox’s most notable moment of the match, as he struggled to adjust to the pace of the game.
It was about this time I began to feel genuinely sorry for Nathan Blissett, the January signing from Torquay. He was busy and always available as the outball. The lone frontman managed one decent shot, accurate in the bottom corner from the edge of the box, but it was slower than a District Line tube and the ‘keeper had time to finish his crossword, put the kids to bed and get down comfortably to save. Every other time he got the ball he was isolated and quickly swarmed by Southend players determined to rob him of possession. In fact, that mentality was in evidence from the Shrimpers all over the pitch. Aggressive in the press, Phil Brown had sent his men out to rattle the Pilgrims, and it was working.
Speaking of rattling people, on 34 minutes, Sonny Bradley emphatically cleared McGlashan into touch, and McGlashan’s torso bounced down the touchline, careering into the hapless (and thoroughly abused) assistant referee, sending him arse over tit. There’s something about match officials, that they always manage to look thoroughly ungainly when falling over (see, di Canio vs Alcock), and the same was true today.
There was still time for two more reasonable chances in the first half. One falling to Southend, one falling to Plymouth, but both at the Argyle end. A Southend corner in the 39th minute resulted in a goalmouth scramble, which “Super” Luke McCormick did well to keep out. Then, a few minutes later, Ryan Edwards almost showed solidarity with Bradley, but he put his defensive header just wide from a left wing cross.
At half time I checked my notes and was astonished that it was only 1-0. It was as dominant a forty five minutes as you’re willing to see in sport (at least until Mayweather cleans the canvas with McGregor’s face next weekend) but Southend had only managed to convert once.
Derek Adams had to do something to change it, and change it he did, bringing on Yann Songo’o in midfield for Fox, and replacing Joel Grant with Lionel Ainsworth. This allowed Jervis to push up closer to Blissett, with almost immediate effect.
On 48 minutes, Jervis flicked on well to give Blissett time and space on the corner of the six yard box. Blissett’s shot was low and hard, but too close to Oxley in the Southend goal who saved easily. Ten minutes later, Blissett was again causing problems, bustling down the right and laying off to Antoni Sarcevic, who blazed over from 10 yards.
An hour gone, and it felt like Argyle could get something from this game – a concept so unlikely at half time the Game of Thrones producers rejected it as unbelievable. And, shortly after, it came. A dangerous ball in by Graham Carey, growing in influence, was nudged behind by a Southend defender. The resulting corner was whipped in, and new centre half Ryan Edwards – signed from Morecambe in the summer – rose highest to crash a header past Oxley. 1-1 and half an hour to go.
For quarter of an hour the play ebbed and flowed, neither side able to gain the upper hand, until on 78 minutes an overhit cross by Carey was kept alive by Lionel Ainsworth. Ainsworth slipped it back to Sarcevic, who – with textbook technique – leant back and sent the ball deep into the Argyle fans behind the goal.
The pace became frenetic, half chances falling to both sides, and just as the fourth official was preparing his board, Graham Carey broke away but was unable to convert his chance. Three minutes later and it looked as though Southend would snatch the glory when Theo Robinson went one on one with McCormick. The number 23 stood up well though (I actually think he saved it with his arse, whilst facing the other way…) and saved Plymouth’s blushes, and their share of the points. When, a few minutes later, the referee blew the whistle, Argyle’s players walked wearily to the away end, and applauded the fans who’d travelled to support them.
1-1 the final result on a day where both sides could claim to be unlucky. Southend could – and should – have run away with it in the first 45, but Plymouth hung on and kept the deficit to one. In the second half, either side could easily have taken the win, but a point apiece was probably fair.
For Southend fans, there were a lot of positives. Fortuné is an absolute handful, and McGlashan will cause left backs sleepless nights all season. Timlin and Leonard in the centre are a solid partnership who both have quality when they get forward. The Green Army, on the other hand, will be most pleased with their manager today. After seeing his side outclassed in the first period, Derek Adams took decisive action. By bringing on Songo’o for the ineffective Fox, he freed up Carey to roam further up the pitch. Songo’o’s (that’s a lot of apostrophes) natural defensive instincts giving Carey that added safety blanket. This in turn allowed Jervis to push closer to Blissett. The whole team looked more cohesive as a result, and it was no surprise that the two forwards started to get chances.
These two teams should be comfortably safe come the end of the season. Both have managers that are amongst the best in division, and have suitably strong squads to survive the long slog of a League One season. Below Blackburn and Wigan, this is a very tight league – Plymouth and Southend should both have enough for a top half finish, possibly more if they can put together some consistent form.
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