Frustration as Plymouth Argyle can't build up winning momentum
THERE was an air of frustration around Home Park on Saturday after Argyle battled out a draw against in-form Southend.
The Pilgrims played some excellent football in the first half, without taking any of the chances that came their way.
Their reward finally came in the 50th minute when Alex MacDonald shot them into the lead.
That set up the prospect of a second successive win for the first time since the Easter weekend of April 2011.
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But, within five minutes, Southend had drawn level and the visitors then had a spell where they were firmly on top.
It was similar to Argyle's home game against Port Vale a fortnight earlier, when they led 1-0 in the second half but then conceded three goals.
This time, however, the Pilgrims survived that shaky period and picked up a creditable point.
Southend had won four of their previous five games in League Two and have a small but talented squad who are capable of challenging for promotion.
But, despite that, there was still the sense of Argyle having missed out on an opportunity to get some real momentum behind them.
Had they beaten Southend, coming off a 3-2 win away to Morecambe the previous Saturday, their tails would well and truly have been up.
But, as in recent games, there were plenty of positives for manager Carl Fletcher to take from the contest.
MacDonald's goal was his first since he returned to the club for a second loan spell from Burnley and, hopefully, more will follow.
The 22-year-old is now much sharper after getting a run of games behind him.
Onismor Bhasera was outstanding in the first half as he returned from an injury which ruled him out of the victory over Morecambe.
The left-sided midfielder could easily have completed a hat-trick before the break.
He got into some excellent attacking positions but could not find the finishing touch on any of the occasions.
Bhasera did not feature so prominently in the second half as Southend started to improve after a lacklustre opening.
But his consistently good performances this season have definitely been one of the highlights for Argyle so far.
Right-back Durrell Berry also came out on top in his battle against Southend winger Dave Martin.
Martin has pace and trickery to burn but Berry, whom Fletcher recently described as the best one-on-one defender in League Two, coped well with him.
So much so that Martin switched flanks during the first half, before being replaced at the break.
Berry was booked in the 60th minute, however, for a foul on Southend midfielder Michael Timlin and it was his fifth yellow card of the season.
He will now be suspended for the Pilgrims' trip to managerless Wycombe Wanderers tomorrow.
It was a blow for Argyle to be without on-loan Watford midfielder Ross Jenkins, who was denied the chance of making his Home Park debut by a groin injury.
But Luke Young returned to the centre of midfield alongside Conor Hourihane and his use of the ball was generally very good.
So while a sense of frustration at the final outcome was understandable, it was certainly not all doom and gloom.
Had it not been for a superb solo goal from Southend's on-loan Watford striker Britt Assombalonga then the Pilgrims would have walked away with maximum points.
Argyle's Guy Madjo had the first chance of the contest, with a shot on the turn which was saved by Southend's Daniel Bentley.
The 19-year-old was making only his second start for the visitors in the absence of Paul Smith and was calm and confident in all that he did during the game.
After that early opportunity, Bhasera came to the fore as Argyle dictated the play.
He was picked out perfectly by a cross from left-back Robbie Williams but the ball skimmed off his head and went wide.
Had Bhasera made a proper connection with the ball it could have been a different outcome.
Madjo set up Bhasera for a 20-yard shot which was saved by Bentley in the 18th minute, and the Zimbabwe international later sent a diving header wide of the far post.
Argyle keeper Jake Cole had to make a good stop from striker Elliot Benyon following a rare moment of menace from Southend.
But Bhasera had the next chance with a sweetly-struck half-volley which flashed across the face of goal.
It was hard to tell for sure, but it looked as though the ball went only inches wide of the target.
Cole saved Assombalonga's free header from close range before Argyle created a couple of good openings on the stroke of half-time.
Madjo scuffed a shot wide after an excellent passing move and Feeney headed fractionally wide following an inviting cross from MacDonald.
Southend sent on Plymouth-born long throw-in specialist Ryan Leonard as a substitute for Martin at the start of the second period.
The 20-year-old was regularly required to hurl the ball into the Argyle box as the visitors tried to out-muscle the Pilgrims.
But it was Argyle who deservedly broke the deadlock in the 50th minute when Madjo cut the ball back to MacDonald and he fired low past Bentley.
That lead lasted only five minutes, though, as Assombalonga ran clear after tricking his way past centre-back Maxime Blanchard.
He strode into the penalty area unopposed and drilled the ball between the legs of Cole for his sixth goal in nine games for United.
There was a flurry of substitutions from both teams after the hour-mark as they tried to gain the ascendancy.
Paris Cowan-Hall and Rhys Griffiths, returning from a four-week absence with the recurrence of a calf injury, replaced the hard-working Madjo and Feeney for Argyle in the 65th minute.
Southend looked more likely to get a second goal, with midfielder Kevan Hurst shooting over the crossbar after he was set up by Assombalonga.
Substitute Barry Corr then somehow failed to apply a finishing touch at the far post after a low cross-shot from Assombalonga.
Corr was sent-off in the 82nd minute for lashing out at Argyle captain Darren Purse after an aerial challenge between the pair.
That allowed Argyle to wrestle some of the initiative back and Berry sent a rising 25-yard drive over the bar in the closing stages. But there was to be no further scoring as an entertaining encounter finished honours even.