MATCH REPORT: Southend 2 Fleetwood 2
Fleetwood right-back Conor McLaughlin's last gasp header clinched a vital point for Town as they fought back to draw 2-2 at Southend.
After hitting the woodwork in the first half Bobby Grant popped up with a sensational left-footed strike in the 53rd minute to put Steven Pressley’s men in the driving seat at the Roots Hall stadium.
But Southend hit back against the run of play in the 72nd minute, McLaughlin appeared to be impeded in the build up as he conceded a corner and his namesake Stephen McLaughlin’s corner from the left squeezed in off the bald head of Adam Barrett.
It was one of three decisions Town boss Steven Pressley believes referee Lee Swabey got wrong as he failed to spot substitute David Ball’s shot being allegedly handled by Ben Coker in the box and waved away Wes Burns’ penalty claim when he appeared to be tripped just as he was about to pull the trigger with the game locked at 1-1.
Fleetwood had dominated the clash and it was a sucker punch when their lively striker Jack Payne found space outside the box and curled the ball past Maxwell with just eight minutes to go.
But Pressley’s men showed immense character and determination and never gave up as they searched for an equaliser.
It was fitting that the goal came from some fine team work by full-backs Amari’i Bell and McLaughlin as they continued to steam down their opposite flanks as the clock ticked towards full-time.
It looked as though Town were going to be denied a point but Bell took on the Southend defence on the left for one last time and whipped in a peach of the cross that was nodded in from close range by McLaughlin who had stormed into the box from the left.
Town should have taken all three points but that 90th minute McLaughlin header enabled them to bag a key point that moved them level on points with Shrewsbury and above the Shrews on goal difference.
Pressley’s men remain 19th in the table and go a point above Blackpool after they were beaten 1-0 by fellow strugglers Colchester.
Oldham’s 1-0 win over Walsall moves them a point above Town as ‘Pool slip back into the bottom four.
But Town’s one point cushion from the drop remains intact and they now prepare to face in-form Oldham at Highbury next Saturday.
Pressley stuck with the same starting 11 and bench that beat Peterborough 2-0 at Highbury on Tuesday.
And just like on Tuesday night Town and the on-fire Burns were straight in the action. The on-loan Bristol City forward danced down the left and pulled the ball back to Scougall but the Scot’s effort was defected wide.
Burns had two attempts in a matter of seconds in the fourth minute as Bentley dived to his right the parry the Welshman’s volley away and he curled the ball just wide of the right stick from the subsequent corner.
But it was Southend who had the best chance of the opening exchanges as Stephen McLaughin’s near post four-yard header beat Maxwell but was booted off the line by Antoni Sarcevic.
Maxwell pulled off a terrific right-leg save to divert Adam Thompson’s shot from the top of the box away from goal.
And just seconds later Town were denied by the woodwork as Burns’ pin-point cross from the right flew towards Bobby Grant at the back stick but his diving header crashed back off the left post to safety.
It was a fast-paced but scrappy opening half an hour with Fleetwood dominant but Southend showing flashes of pace.
Burns blasted way over the bar in the 31st minute from outside the box and Southend’s Ryan Leonard’s shot was blocked by Scougall as both sides tried to break the deadlock.
Scougall, who was playing just behind Burns and Bobby Grant in a 4-3-1-2 formation, exploited the gaps in the Southend defence as he danced past a host of players but unfortunately the end result was not as pretty as his mazy run as he tamely rolled the ball straight to Bentley.
Scougall had to receive treatment to his ankle after a bad late challenge by Adam Thompson outside the box. The referee, clad in a luminous turquoise top waved play-on and McLaughlin eventually smashed the ball way wide from the right of the box and once the ball had crashed into the home following referee Lee Swabey booked Thompson for the foul.
The half ended with Fleetwood in Southend’s half as Ryan’s set-piece bobbled to Jonsson, his effort was blocked to Jordan and the centre half’s strike was deflected inches over the bar but the linesman had raised his flag for offside so Town did not have one last chance to bag an opener before the referee blew for half-time.
It was a dull and uneventful opening to the second half but the game sprang to life in the 53rd minute when Bobby Grant opened the scoring in spectacular fashion.
The move was started by Ryan on the right flank and after Town were harassed by Southend players Jonsson showed his class with a slick back-heel that eventually freed McLaughlin to find space and slip the ball inside to Bobby Grant who let fly with his left foot from 30-yards out and sent the ball sailing into the net.
Southend had a golden opportunity to level in the 60th minute as they pumped the ball up towards Weston, it bounced over both Pond and Jordan and the substitute found himself through on goal just seconds after coming off the bench but fortunately for Town he just fizzed the ball wide of the left post.
Sarcevic’s shot was deflected wide for a corner and Scougall fired just over the bar after some nice work by Burns on the right wing as Town looked to increase their lead.
Ryan’s cross fizzed towards goal but it was cleared off the line by Barrett and within seconds he was up the other end to nod in and level for the hosts.
Stephen McLaughlin whipped in a corner and the bald-headed Barrett was there at the near post to head the ball past Maxwell in the 71st minute.
Pressley was furious on the touchline after Burns was denied a penalty moments after as he stole in but appeared to be impeded by a navy shirt and the referee just waved away Town’s claims.
Ball made an immediate impact after coming off the bench and replacing Scougall.
He found space on the left, cut inside and his strike appeared to hit Coker’s arm before falling into the path of Grant just outside the six-yard box but his effort took a defection and sailed over the bar.
But it was Southend who took the lead as Weston’s cross from the left flew over everyone to Worrall deep on the right, he slipped the ball back to Payne who curled the ball through a crowd of bodies and past Maxwell in the 82nd minute.
Pressley threw strikers Ash Hunter and Devante Cole into the mix but it was his two full-backs Bell and McLaughlin who combined to produce a last gasp equaliser.
Bell whipped the ball in from the left over his marker, high and into the path of right-back McLaughlin who fought his way into the six-yard box and was on hand to nod in from close range.
Fleetwood: Maxwell, McLaughlin, Pond, Jordan, Bell, Jonsson (Hunter, 84), Ryan, Sarcevic, Scougall (Ball, 76), B Grant (Cole, 87), Burns. Subs not used: Gogic, Forbes, Nilsson, T Grant.
Southend: Bentley, Coker, Thompson, Barrett, Worrall (White, 87), McLaughlin (McQueen, 79) Atkinson (Weston, 59), Deegan, Leonard, Payne, Barnett. Subs not used: Hurst, Loza, Kamara, Malarczyk.
Referee: Lee Swabey (Devon)
Attendance: 6644 (Fleetwood 62)