The Football League's last remaining 100 per cent record disappeared as Torquay were deservedly beaten despite a late flurry of pressure. Paul Buckle's side dropped to second place, behind Shrewsbury, as the Gulls' afternoon ended acrimoniously with the defender Guy Branston losing his cool with Southend's club photographer, David Scriven, on the final whistle. As both walked across the pitch, Branston confronted the photographer, whose time-wasting "crime" had been to flick the ball into empty stands as Torquay chased a stoppage-time equaliser in vain.
"It was a good ploy but when you've got Guy looking for it you have to be a brave person to do that," Buckle said. "I've said to Guy he can't react like that but he's passionate and doesn't like losing. They were both a bit naughty." Torquay had only themselves to blame however as they were second best for a huge portion of the afternoon.
Louie Soares forced Torquay's goalkeeper Scott Bevan into an early save and his strike partner, Blair Sturrock, son of the Southend manager Paul, chested wide two minutes later.
Southend are attempting a rebuilding job under Sturrock, with the Scot having to assemble an almost entirely new squad after the club narrowly avoided being pushed into administration because of an HM Revenue & Customs winding up petition a month ago. Winding up was what Blair Sturrock's clever lay-back allowed Josh Simpson to do in the box but the on-loan Peterborough midfielder's shot cleared the crossbar.
Torquay were failing to live up to their pre-match billing and fell behind in the 15th minute when the former Chelsea trainee Anthony Grant, whose one first team appearance there was at Old Trafford five years ago, produced a quality finish from Ryan Hall's half-cleared corner, side-footing into the top corner of the goal.
Grant then hit a post on the half-hour mark as Southend continued to dominate and although Torquay's Mark Ellis found an upright at the other end with his side's only effort of note, Simpson made amends for his earlier miss with the second Southend goal after 43 minutes that was also perfectly placed beyond Bevan's reach.
Torquay continued to live dangerously after the break with Chris Robertson's pull on Soares' shirt in the box going un-punished by referee Dean Whitestone and Kevin Nicholson clearing off the line from Bilel Mohsni.
The Gulls at last began to look like League leaders with Chris Zebroski firing an effort across goal before Grant stopped a goal-bound Ellis effort and Nicholson's shot was deflected on to the bar. Twelve minutes were remaining when Zebroski pulled one back after the substitute Martin Gritton had hit a post. The captain Nicky Wroe should have equalised straight away but miskicked in front of goal. The home side nervously but successfully negotiated four minutes of added time, which saw the goalkeeper Glenn Morris paw away a Zebroski header.
Sturrock admitted it had been a close call in the end. "In the first half we could have been further ahead," he said. "In the second they had clear cut chances that they missed. Overall I'm pleased but the last 20 minutes it was all hands to the pumps."