Southend United 0 Yeovil Town 2 – Saturday 24th April 2004
After a good run up to Christmas which had seen Yeovil push up to 3rd in the Third Division table, the Glovers stuttered into a poor run of form which saw their promotion chase fade in the New Year, following departure in the FA Cup at the hands of Liverpool. Gary Johnson’s men found themselves a bit short up front, with previous season’s top scorer Kirk Jackson struggling at League level and Kevin Gall’s ten goals all coming before January. Jake Edwards performed okay, scoring 10 goals in 20 starts, and he was an intelligent player but perhaps not the dominant force the manager was looking for. After Christmas, Johnson started to look for alternatives in the striking department. He brought in Andy Bishop on loan from Walsall, who scored two goals and two assists in four games, including a vital winner in a 1-0 home win over promotion-chasing Oxford, but was sent back after a disappointing performance at Huddersfield, when to be fair the entire team performed poorly. He would be released by Walsall at the end of the season and go on to have very successful spells at York and Bury proving himself a very capable striker, scoring over 20 goals for three seasons in a row. In also came Lee Matthews from Bristol City, a giant striker who returned one assist from four games.
After Matthews returned to Bristol City, in came Portuguese striker Dani Rodrigues, who was a free agent signed on a short term contract after leaving Greek club Ionikos.
Yeovil were just scraping enough wins to stay in touch with the playoffs, beating Cambridge 4-1 and Bristol Rovers 4-0, but they continued to slide down the table with five games without a win, landing in 9th after a poor Easter return of only one point. Results around this time showed how Yeovil were just falling short – going 1-0 up against Mansfield and 2-0 up against Torquay, both promotion-chasing sides, only to draw both games. Easter saw two points dropped at home in a 0-0 draw against Cheltenham, followed by an end to end game at Boston’s York Street. 1-0 up in the first few minutes, at 2-2 Yeovil were given a penalty which Gavin Williams converted, only for it to be ordered re-taken. The re-take was saved, and with the scores level going into injury time Boston’s Lee Thompson found himself with the entire Yeovil half of the pitch to himself, although admittedly from a position about three miles offside, it does beg the question of why, in the 90th minute away from home with the scores at 2-2, Yeovil did not have a single player defending in their own half.
With the Glovers down to 9th, the following week they entertained Bury with new boy Rodrigues named as substitute. With the visitors leading 1-0, Rodrigues came off the bench in the second half to equalise with one of the most spectacular goals ever seen at Huish Park, an overhead kick from inside the area. He followed it up with a less spectacular second, as Yeovil ran out 2-1 winners to turn around their rotten recent form.
The Bury win was followed up with a vital match at York the following Tuesday, a game in hand as the originally scheduled match had been rained off at late notice. York had started the season like a train but by the end were struggling badly, and would eventually be relegated despite topping the table early in the season. Goals from Lindegaard and Terry gave Yeovil the win, taking them back up to 7th and suddenly the playoffs were back on!
Although Southend were not having a great season and had been comfortably despatched 4-0 in November with a masterclass from Lee Johnson, they had improved and pulled themselves up to mid-table with a run of only three defeats in 19 games. Following the sacking of Steve Wignall, former player Steve Tilson not only steered the Shrimpers clear of relegation in 03/04, but led them to two consecutive promotions in the following two seasons, so on paper it did look like a very hard game. However, two first half goals from Rodrigues were to secure the win and Yeovil remained in 7th. Around 700 Yeovil fans made the trip to the Essex seaside, for a sunny day out that would be echoed exactly a year later for a much more critical game as the two went head to head for the League Two title.
Unfortunately the following week, defeat at home to promotion-bound Hull City in front of a full house pushed the Glovers back down to 8th, and Hugo Rodrigues’ only goal for the club was not enough.
This left Yeovil going into the final game of the season with only an outside chance of promotion – they needed to better the result of Northampton who were away at Mansfield, not an easy match by any means. Yeovil did their part, going 2-0 up in the second half with goals from substitutes Stansfield and Edwards, but again they threw it away to let Lincoln back in at 2-2. Gavin Williams pulled a long range free kick out of his back pocket in the last minute but it wasn’t enough as Northampton won, a result enough to see them into the playoffs, where they would play Mansfield again.
Despite the disappointment of missing out on the last day though, that couldn’t detract from what had been by any measure a very successful first season, showing that the majority of Yeovil’s Conference-winning squad were good enough to challenge in League Two. Only the addition of more potency up front was really needed to push for promotion again, and the third major trophy in four years.
Team that day: Steve Collis, Andy Lindegaard, Colin Pluck, Adam Lockwood, Hugo Rodrigues, Darren Way (sub. Simon Weatherstone, 67), Lee Johnson, Paul Terry, Gavin Williams, Jake Edwards (sub. Nick Crittenden, 87), Dani Rodrigues (sub. Adam Stansfield, 81). Unused subs: Ryan Northmore, Nathan Talbott.