Full-time: Bristol Rovers 2 Southend United 3
Bristol Rovers boss Mark McGhee watched his side let slip a one-goal advantage at the Memorial Stadium as a recent poor run of form was extended to a fourth successive defeat.
A recent run of only one defeat in seven games, which suggested Rovers may have turned a corner after a poor start to the season seems a long time ago – even if the players started the game last night in fine fashion as Fabian Broghammer pounced to convert a rebound after his initial shot had been save by Southend goalkeeper Paul Smith in the 10th minute.
Southend, however, hit back with goals from Gavin Tomlin and Kevan Hurst within four minutes of each other shortly before the break before defender Ryan Cresswell powered in a 63rd minute header to ensure a happy journey back to Essex for the visiting side.
A David Clarkson penalty in the 84th minute served only to offer hope of a comeback and McGhee will now be hoping to end his side's four-game losing streak when Chesterfield come to the Memorial Stadium on Saturday – but which players and what formation the manager will deploy to try and halt a spate of poor form is anybody's guess.
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The manager last night reverted to a more familiar flat-back four in a side showing two changes to the one which was knocked out of the FA Cup by Sheffield United on Saturday – but sprang surprises in what looked like a possible 4-2-3-1 formation.
Tom Parkes returned from suspension to slot in alongside Garry Kenneth at the heart of defence, which allowed Matthew Lund to return to right-back, while Jim Paterson, was moved alongside Seanan Clucas in a deep-lying screening two-man midfield.
In front of them, Derek Riordan, David Clarkson and Broghammer played in a three behind Tom Eaves, who was played up front on his own.
On-loan goalkeeper Neil Etheridge replaced Sam Walker, who dropped to the bench along with Michael Smith, who also started at the weekend. Defender Danny Woodards returned to the match day squad for the first time since breaking his leg at the end of last season and was named amongst the substitutes.
Rovers suffered an early scare when Michael Timlin struck the post with a shot inside the first two minutes when finding himself free on the left-hand side of the penalty area.
It sparked 'here we go again' groans from the stands, but McGhee's side managed to compose themselves and were unlucky not to score off the heads of both Eaves and Lee Brown before they eventually took the lead in the 12th minute.
Southend goalkeeper Smith, who almost signed for Rovers at the start of the season before the deal fell through, made a good save to repel Broghammer's blistering effort from the inside the penalty area – but the rebound fell kindly to the German and he smashed it high into the net to break the deadlock.
Smith made a good reflex save to deny Rovers an opportunity to double the advantage seven minutes later when he correctly read the flight of Eaves' deflected shot and managed to push the effort around the post.
Southend, meanwhile, looked dangerous enough on the break and would have had a goal themselves had Etheridge not made two fine saves to keep his sheet clean. The first was a desperate dive down to his near post to palm the ball away to spare Kenneth's blushes after a cross had hit the wrong side of the defender's head.
The on-loan Fulham man then denied Tomlin from close-range after he had connected sweetly with a long ball that came over his shoulder inside the penalty area.
The former Yeovil striker, however, was not to be denied in the 39th minute when finding himself sprinting through on goal unopposed before slipping a nest finish past Etheridge to bring the perfect finish to a rapier-like Southend counter-attack.
Hurst was equally clinical from close-range when Sturrock's created another opening with some nest play around the Rovers penalty area in the 43rd minute to offer his side a slender half-time advantage
McGhee acted quickly to try and turn things around by withdrawing Clucas and Paterson to be replaced by Oliver Norburn and Wayne Brown.
It was the Shrimpers, though, who had the first opportunity of the second-half; striker Britt Assombalonga only prevented from adding to Rovers woes by a last-ditch tackle by Kenneth after a sloppy pass from Lee Brown had allowed Southend freedom to advance on goal.
Parkes, meanwhile, had a headed effort from a corner cleared off the line soon afterwards before Eliot Richards was brought off the bench to replace Eaves as McGhee searched for some impetus in the 63rd minute.
Seconds later, however, it was practically game, set and match to Southend as defender Ryan Cresswell towered above everybody else inside the penalty area to powerfully head a corner past Etheridge – had the goalkeeper not made a decent save from Assombalonga soon after the margin of defeat may possibly have been greater.
Clarkson converted from the spot after Riordan had been felled six minutes from time to set up a grandstand finish – but Southend stood firm to leave Rovers and McGhee nursing another setback.
Rovers (4-2-3-1): Etheridge, Lund, Kenneth, Parkes, L Brown; Clucas, Paterson, Broghammer, Clarkson, Riordan Riordan; Eaves. Subs: Walker, Smith, Woodards, Richards, Norburn, W Brown, Hunter.
Southend United (4-3-3): Smith; Clohessy, Cresswell, Phillips, Barker; Timlin, Mkandawire, Laird; Hurst, Assombalonga, Tomlin. Subs: Bentley, Straker, Eastwood, Corr, Martin, Leonard, Woodyard.