Southend United 1-1 Torquay United
Kevin Maher’s Shrimpers have ended their first season in the National League in the lower half of the table but grabbed a share of the spoils after James Dunne cancelled out Chori Johnson’s first-half strike, on Sunday.
Southend did especially well after Jason Demetriou was sent off with over half an hour remaining.
A keen start to this final game of a difficult, transitional season for the Blues, saw the Gulls take the initiative.
A fifth minute Joe Felix free-kick saw Connor Lemonheigh Evans beat Steve Arnold, but Harrison Neal did superbly well to clear from under the bar.
Torquay – keen to do the double over the Blues, having won narrowly last September – kept up the pressure and veteran, Danny Wright hit the outside of Arnold’s near post.
With Southend still to trouble the away defence, it was Evans – pulling the midfield strings – who wasted an excellent, 36th-minute chance – lobbing over from close range.
On the stroke of half-time, the sleepy Shrimpers finally troubled visiting keeper, Mark Halstead when skipper, Jason Demetriou failed to get a decent shot away before Callum Powell saw his follow-up blocked.
Prolonged treatment to the Gulls’, Dan Martin – and ultimate substitution – saw the South Devon side take full advantage of the break in play.
Johnson – with his first strike of the season – profited from a Dunne defensive error to fire home in the fifth minute of stoppage time.
Southend should have been back on level terms within three minutes of the restart, but Leon Davies headed straight at a grateful Halstead.
The afternoon went from bad to worse after 58 minutes when Demetriou’s high challenge on Ben Wynter saw the referee, Aaron Jackson unhesitatingly produce a red card.
Undeterred, Southend at least pressed for a leveller, and the industrious Neal hit the top of Halstead’s bar with a fine, 20-yard angled drive.
Johnson wasted a presentable 72nd-minute chance, to win the contest, from Keelan O’Connell’s cross – heading straight at Arnold.
Southend made the visitors pay, three minutes later, when Dunne made amends with a fine, left-footed drive, giving a flat-footed Halstead no chance.
Torquay hit back and on 86 minutes Arnold produced the save of the afternoon to spectacularly deny clean through sub, Olaf Koszela.
Two minutes from time, the popular, John White – in a Southend shirt probably for the last time – got a standing ovation, replacing Leon Davies.
Maher said: “I was disappointed conceding so late first-half stoppage time – especially as we’d had chances before that.”
The former Shrimpers’ stalwart praised goalscorer, Dunne: “But, the reaction after the red card was good. James took his goal superbly – he’s a great professional.”
Having been in the Roots Hall hot seat since late last year, Maher concluded: “The club had been suffering for two or three years. A lot had to have gone drastically wrong. So a lot has had to be put right. I think we’ve started that process. Hopefully, that continues.”
Opposing boss, Gary Johnson admitted: “Today’s performance reflected our season – a good first half and a poor second. You’re never going to win the league like that.”
Gloveman, Arnold, had the last word: “At the beginning of the season that [the red card] would have meant a totally different result. Credit to the boys.”
Southend United: Steve Arnold, Leon Davies (John White 88′), Shaun Hobson, Ollie Kensdale, Joe Gubbins, Jason Demetriou (Capt), James Dunne, Harrison Neal, Jack Bridge (Will Atkinson 85′), Sam Dalby, Callum Powell (Jack Wood 90′) Subs not used: Tom Clifford, Oli Coker
Torquay United: Mark Halstead, Ben Wynter, Ali Omar, Joe Lewis, Dan Martin (Opi Edwards 32′), Keelan O’Connell (Olaf Koszela 78′), Joe Felix (Alex Moyse 87′), Chori Johnson, Danny Wright, Connor Lemonheigh Evans Sub not used: Marcin Brzozowski (GK)
Referee: Aaron Jackson
Assistants: Hugh Gilroy and Daniel Todd
Fourth Official: Jack Willmore