Wolverhampton Wanderers. .1
IT WAS the same old ball game: a referee in black, 10 minutes for half-time and 90 minutes of rough-house football. A goal each in the five minutes before the break maintained Wanderers' unbeaten start to the season and helped Southend restore some self-belief after their 7-0 humiliation at Derby in mid-week, but these were meagre scraps to take home from an untidy game.
Southend had bolstered their suspect defence by taking Gary Parkinson on loan from Middlesbrough, and the debutant did well to subdue an energetic, if undirected, Steve Bull.
However, it was Mike Stowell in the Wolves goal who was the first to be tested. He distinguished himself in the 20th minute, tipping Kevin O'Callaghan's header on to the bar and then gathering the ball safely in the face of some enthusiastic challenges. Stowell, who had passed a late fitness test on an injured ankle, had to be on his toes again three minutes later to parry a rising blast from Andy Ansah.
It seemed that Southend had missed their chance as Wolves began to exert increasing influence upon the game. They had not, however, produced any real chances until Mark Rankine collected the ball on the right and crossed for the unmarked Andy Mutch to head home. It was a rare moment of elegant simplicity amid the prevailing crudeness.
Wolves, who had yet to concede a goal away from home in the league, perhaps scented victory. Southend, however, fought back with spirit. Kevin Ashley was booked for bringing down the lively Ansah, and, with half-time beckoning, David Martin was pushed as he went for Adam Locke's tantalising centre. The referee gave the penalty and Ian Benjamin drove it home for his seventh goal of the season.
Southend began the second half in lively mood, Martin firing Benjamin's knock-down only just wide. However, Wolves seemed the more eager to claim the points. Spurred on by their large contingent of fans and their promotion ambitions, they came back strongly. The impressive Mutch twice went close, heading Bull's far-post cross wide and touching a last-minute corner on to the bar.
Paul Cook almost sealed it for the away team in a frantic finish with a 30-yard rocket that Paul Sansome pushed over, but, for all their endeavour, the Wolves were left hungry at the end.
Southend United: P Sansome; G Parkinson, C Powell, J Cornwell, P Scully, S Prior, A Ansah, D Martin, A Locke, I Benjamin, K O'Callaghan. Subs not used: S Tilson, A Sussex. Manager: C Murphy.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: M Stowell; K Ashley, P Edwards, K Downing (R Dennison, 69 min), D Mountfield, P Blades, P Birch, P Cook, S Bull, A Mutch, M Rankine. Sub not used: L Madden. Manager: G Turner.
Referee: P Don (Hanworth Park, Middlesex).
Scores: Mutch (0-1, 40 min), Benjamin pen (1-1, 44 min).