CRACK open the champagne, share out the mince pies, Christmas has arrived at Plainmoor.
Just for tonight, forget what has happened before, forget the bad results and the good performances that have come and gone with no reward.
Everyone connected with Torquay United deserves to enjoy a fantastic win and an even better display against a Southend side touted as one of the best in our division.
On this windy December day, the visitors were given a lesson in what total commitment and the willingness to play expansive football under intense pressure can bring – three welcome points.
The magnificent John Marquis scored the only goal and rightly won man of the match for a heroic individual performance, but this was congratulations to everyone. We all deserved the win and now we have to back it up.
A difficult run of form normally leads to difficult decisions and there will have been no tougher for United manager than opting for Michael Poke to start his first game in goal this season ahead of the unfortunate Martin Rice.
The back four remained unchanged from the 3-1 defeat to Scunthorpe a fortnight ago but the shape and personnel in front of them had a different look.
Firstly, Jak McCourt was preferred to Nathan Craig in a three-man midfield.In attack, Elliot Benyon dropped down to the bench to allow a return from injury for Billy Bodin, who occupied one flank, with Jordan Chapell on the opposite side and Marquis acting as the spearhead.
In stark contrast to the Gulls, Southend were on a fabulous run, including a superb 3-1 FA Cup triumph at Chesterfield last weekend and that confidence was reflected in manager Phil Brown’s decision to keep faith with the same starting 11.
Despite the opposing fortunes of the two clubs in recent weeks, it was the Gulls who started brighter, moving the ball nicely in midfield areas and the drive of Damien Mozika was a real influence in the early exchanges.
The intensity of tackles flying in all over the park was perhaps an indication of the importance of three points to both, although the motives were very different.
Marquis was proving a real thorn in Southend’s side in the opening stages and he was central to United playing most of their football in the visitors’ half, with the swirling wind inside Plainmoor a contributing factor.
The first real effort on goal was a scythed shot over the bar from Marc Laird on 15 minutes but United were soon winning a corner at the other end, and Southend stopper Daniel Bentley displayed good hands to snaffle the delivery from McCourt.
The momentum was definitely in Yellow backs and Lee Mansell was unlucky to see his impulsive half-volley deflected wide on 23 minutes. The TQ1 residents were then roaring their approval at a pair of stonking challenges from Anthony O’Connor and Mozika.
Referee Stephen Martin failed to spot a clear foul on Tonge, allowing the Shrimpers to break and Conor Clifford forced Poke into his first save of the afternoon, as he clutched a curling shot from just above his head.
Back at the other end, and Chapell delivered a lovely cross after a determined run from Bodin, which picked out Mozika for a header steered a fraction wide of the post.
The Shrimpers then enjoyed a decent spell of possession but the whole-hearted defending of O’Connor was again to the fore and the midfield hounding of Mansell and Mozika prevented any real penetration.
O’Connor was next driving forward in the right-wing position and clever feet from Bodin won United another corner, but Bentley was able to claw the ball to safety.
Bodin dragged a shot wide with the final act of the first-half but it was Southend out of the blocks quicker from the restart, and Poke did very well to tip over a swerving strike by Barry Corr.
The same Shrimper then really should have scored with a free header in the box and Yellow retribution was swift and beautiful to watch.
The instigator was Bodin, picking out the run of Marquis with an exquisite pass with the outside of his left boot. However, the man on loan from Millwall still had plenty of work left to control a dipping volley from a difficult angle.
The execution on his weaker left side was sublime, steering the ball across Bentley and inside the far corner. It should have been 2-0 within a minute but the outstanding O’Connor somehow contrived to hit the bar from almost on the goal-line.
In his defence, it was an awkward ball to control and Bentley brilliantly palmed away the rebound header from Mozika. The relentless action continued with McCourt hitting the bar direct from the subsequent corner.
Southend threw on Ryan Leonard for Laird in a bid to change the happy flow of events but the Gulls continued piling forward, and Mansell was inches wide with a tremendous half-volley when a Dale Tonge cross was cleared to the edge of the box.
Bizarrely, given their position in the league, the Shrinmpers seemed devoid of ideas and there was no real surprise when the experienced striker Freddy Eastwood was introduced for Clifford on the hour.
It was a forlorn hope for Brown, as his side remained pegged back by a superb United performance, although Poke did need all his wits about him to bravely punch clear a dangerous cross from Kevan Hurst.
Southend quickly turned back to the bench, removing Anthony Straker for Jack Payne but the Gulls were hunting in packs all over the park, and Plainmoor could only watch in nervous appreciation of the effort on display.
Tonge, one of many in Yellow enjoying a fine afternoon, then launched a ball over the top for Marquis and it was a measure of his inner belief that he attempted a shot from the angle of the 18-yard box, and the ferocious effort only just fizzed over.
Southend did conjure half a chance on 82 minutes with a long ball over the top but Eastwood losing balance when executing the final shot, and Poke gathered comfortably.
United’s response was a surge forward from Tom Cruise, another top performer, and he won a corner that the Shrimpers again struggled to clear.
There was no doubt the wind was helping but credit to the Yellows for utilising the advantage better than their opponents.
A hail storm arrived for the final five minutes and Knill decided the time was right to introduce the fresh legs of Benyon to relieve the excellent, and exhausted, Chapell.
It was surely a case of now holding on to the end but perhaps the biggest compliment to a memorable team display was the fact the Gulls were far from holding on. If anything, they were searching for more goals.
It has been a long time coming and our players deserve their evening of celebration….and then we must go again at Dagenham next week.
United [4-3-3]: 1 Michael Poke; 2 Dale Tonge, 29 Anthony O’Connor, 4 Aaron Downes, 21 Thomas Cruise; 7 Lee Mansell [capt], 17 Jak McCourt, 36 Damien Mozika; 10 Billy Bodin, 16 John Marquis, 12 Jordan Chapell (26 Elliot Benyon 88). Substitutes [not used]: 5 Krystian Pearce, 9 Karl Hawley, 11 Courtney Cameron, 13 Martin Rice [GK], 20 Nathan Craig, 26 Elliot Benyon, 31 Daniel Sullivan.
Southend [4-3-3]: 17 Daniel Bentley; 2 John White [capt], 15 Rob Kiernan, 6 Luke Prosser, 3 Ben Coker; 16 Conor Clifford (7 Freddy Eastwood 61), 4 Marc Laird (18 Ryan Leonard 53), 8 Michael Timlin; 14 Kevan Hurst, 10 Barry Corr, 11 Anthony Straker (21 Jack Payne 74). Substitutes [not used]: 1 Paul Smith [GK], 5 Mark Phillips, 12 Will Atkinson, 23 Adam Thompson.
Referee: Stephen Martin
Attendance:2,144 (171 away).