Southend United made light work of Rochdale’s excellent home record as they beat Dale 3-0 at Spotland on Good Friday.
The terrific victory strengthened Blues’ grip on a play-off place ahead of the visit of Accrington Stanley to Roots Hall on Easter Monday.
Barry Corr and Jacob Murphy, the two changes made by Phil Brown following the defeat against AFC Wimbledon, scored in the opening 45 minutes to give Blues a 2-0 half-time lead.
That lead became 3-0 just 20 seconds after the restart as Michael Timlin volleyed home form Kevan Hurst’s cross and that was more than enough for Blues to record an important away victory.
Corr was recalled to the side in place of Lee Barnard, while Murphy came into the side for fellow Norwich loanee Jamar Loza as Brown went back to the trusted 4-3-3 that served them so well earlier in the campaign.
Dale, formidable at home, made a bright start to the game and created the first opening. Joe Bunney was played in over the top but was unable to get his shot on target as he sliced it well wide.
Recalled to the side for his first start since his sending off against Bury, Corr was the man to give Blues the lead, but it was Murphy who took the plaudits.
The Norwich City loanee dispossessed Matt Done and rolled it perfectly into Corr’s path for the striker to tap the ball into an empty net.
Dale’s response was immediate, and they had two chances inside the opening 20 minutes to draw level. Done, at fault for the opener, saw his shot tipped wide by Daniel Bentley.
Ian Henderson was then denied by the woodwork as his 20-yard effort bounced down off the bar and the right side of the line for Blues.
But Blues responded and were close themselves to grabbing the second goal of the game. Timlin nipped in to take the ball off Josh Lillis from Jack O’Connell’s pass, but Oliver Lancashire produced a superb clearance off the line.
The sting was taken out of the game on the 30-minute mark as Scott Hogan hobbled off for Dale, but Blues were able to double their lead before the break.
A superb counter from a Dale corner saw Will Atkinson feed Ryan Leonard. The midfielder’s shot was heading wide, but Murphy was on hand to tap into the empty net.
They say 2-0 is a dangerous scoreline, so Brown would have been over the moon when within 20 seconds of the restart, Blues made it 3-0.
Leonard’s ball was headed on by Corr to Hurst who beat his man and crossed for Timlin who volleyed past Lillis.
Dale thought they’d pulled a goal back just after the hour mark, but Joe Rafferty’s cross, that may have been going straight in, was headed into the net by Bunney who was in an offside position.
Blues were protecting their 3-0 lead well, and Leonard went within inches of making it four with a stunning long range strike. The midfielder was desperately unlucky to see it cannon back off the bar.
Brown introduced Luke Prosser to shore things up defensively for the final five minutes, and Blues held out to pick up their 18th clean sheet of the season.
The three points boosted Blues’ play-off hopes with just three games remaining; starting with Accrington Stanley at Roots Hall on Easter Monday.
Blues: Bentley; White, Sokolik, Egan, Coker; Atkinson, Leonard, Timlin; Hurst (Prosser), Corr (Loza), Murphy (Straker).
Subs: Chambers, Laird, Eastwood, Barnard