Southend United 1 Cheltenham Town 2
IF THIS was to be Marlon Pack’s final appearance in a Cheltenham Town shirt then the gifted midfielder has bowed on a high note.
He scored the Robins’ opener in their 2-1 victory over Southend United this evening and was the driving force in the middle of the pitch for Mark Yates’ team on his return to the starting XI.
Pack could still due to sign for Swindon Town when they are sanctioned by the Football League to bring players in, but he showed no signs of being distracted, showing the sort of form that has made Paolo Di Canio so keen to capture his signature.
Forming an effective partnership with hard man Jason Taylor, playmaker Pack was one of the main reasons Cheltenham picked up their fifth away win of the campaign against another side who missed out in last season’s play-offs to Crewe.
Southend made the brighter start and only an alert reaction save from Scott Brown stopped them from taking the lead in the second minute.
Debutant Danny Mayor combined with Ben Reeves, who weaved his way into a shooting position, but Brown was equal to his shot from close range.
Cheltenham were forced to contain Paul Sturrock’s men for most of the opening ten minutes, but the game changed when Alex Woodyard tripped Russ Penn in the penalty area,
Pack, making his first start since almost joining Swindon on transfer deadline day, stepped up and kept his cool from the spot, sending Paul Smith the wrong way for his third goal of the campaign in the 13th minute.
Taking the lead gave Cheltenham’s player a visible lift in confidence and while Reeves, on loan at Roots Hall from Premier League club Southampton, continued to look bright, the away side improved.
Pack’s free-kick was well struck, but straight at Smith who gathered safely, but the Southend defence suddenly looked weak.
Benson’s firm volley was blocked by Anthony Straker and Penn’s skilful run ended with a shot into the side netting in the 26th minute.
Smith was forced to dive to keep out Taylor’s low effort as Cheltenham showed far more cohesion than they had in Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Dagenham and Redbridge.
The lead was doubled in the 38th minute when Michael Spillane’s attempted back pass sold Smith shot and Southend-born Benson, who used to be a season ticket at Roots Hall, was able to stretch to reach it and direct it past the goalkeeper.
Spillane scored an own goal for Dagenham in their 5-0 home defeat by Cheltenham last season and once again he was at fault.
With regular centre-back Ryan Cresswell suspended, Spillane and Luke Prosser were given a hard time by Benson and Byron Harrison, who was preferred to Shaun Harrad up front for his first start in a Robins shirt.
The other two players to drop out of the team were Billy Jones and Kaid Mohamed with Sido Jombati and Pack reinstated.
Penn operated on the left of a four-man midfield, with Pack and Taylor in the middle and Jermaine McGlashan on the right.
It was an effective combination, despite centre-half Steve Elliott being the only left-footed player in the team.
Southend pushed early in the second half and Michael Hector was caught in possession in the 57th minute.
Barry Corr caught the Reading loan youngster dwelling on the ball and raced through on goal, but his pass aimed at Britt Assombalonga was overhit and Jombati was able to clear.
Southend appealed for a penalty in the 74th minute when Penn challenged substitute Ryan Leonard, but referee Stuart Attwell was not convinced.
Cheltenham remained solid until the 92nd minute when Reeves curled a shot into the top right corner for a goal his performance probably deserved.
Despite the late concern his goal provided, it was a far cry from last season’s 4-0 hammering Cheltenham suffered on the same pitch last March.
They were rewarded for their efforts with a return to the top three ahead of Saturday’s home match against Aldershot Town.
SOUTHEND UNITED: P Smith; S Clohessy, M Spillane, L Prosser, A Straker; K Hurst, B Reeves, A Woodyard (R Leonard 64), D Mayor (C Lavery 82); B Corr, M Laird (B Assombalonga 37). Subs not used: G Coughlan, N Harris, D Bentley, J Spicer.
CHELTENHAM TOWN: S Brown; K Lowe, M Hector, S Elliott, S Jombati; J McGlashan, M Pack, J Taylor, R Penn (S Deering 87); P Benson (K Mohamed 59), B Harrison (D Duffy 81). Subs not used: B Jones,C Roberts, S Harrad, L McCullough.
REFEREE: S Attwell.
ATTENDANCE: 3,908 (86 away).
STAR MAN: Marlon Pack.
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