A quickfire double from Simon Cox secured Southend a superb 2-0 win at the Priestfield Stadium against Kent rivals Gillingham.
After being pinned back for most of the first-half in windy conditions, Cox grabbed two goals in the space of three second-half minutes to send Blues on their way to a fourth league win in five.
Cox’s first came after good work from the striker inside the box, shifting the ball onto his left foot before firing the ball into the bottom corner, via a deflection.
Three minutes later and Cox was slid in by a perfectly timed pass by Dru Yearwood and slid the ball calmly beyond Tomas Holy to double Southend’s advantage.
The home side huffed and puffed as the second-half went on and Southend had Mark Oxley to thank for keeping daylight between the two sides, making three superb saves late on.
Victory was Blues’ first at Gillingham since 2012 and extended their unbeaten run in the league to five matches ahead of home games with Coventry City and Walsall.
The Blues boss would have been delighted with the response from his side after they laboured to a 0-0 draw against bottom of the table Oxford United last weekend before losing 2-0 convincingly in the Checkatrade Trophy in midweek to Colchester.
Going into today’s game, Chris Powell was forced into making three changes from Southend’s team that faced Oxford with Elvis Bwomono, Stephen Hendrie and Theo Robinson coming in Jason Demetriou and the injured pair of John White and Tom Hopper.
The Gills recorded a morale-boosting win on the road at Portsmouth last weekend, putting an end to a 10-game winless run in all competitions, and they were looking for just their second home win of the season and their first on their new £500,000 pitch that finished being laid this week.
After Tom Eaves saw a tame header on goal easily saved in the opening two minutes, Callum Reilly had the home side’s first real effort in anger, striking a low drive that was held at the second attempt by Blues goalkeeper Mark Oxley.
Playing against the wind in the first-half, Southend were looking most dangerous on the counter-attack and twice went close to catching Gillingham on the break. Both times Blues attacked they had Gills three against three only for last-ditch tackles to thwart Simon Cox and Elvis Bwomono.
The blustery conditions were tailor-made for the home side to take a couple of pot-shots from distance in the first-half and a couple of Gills efforts almost paid dividends with Eaves forcing Oxley to tip over a long-range strike before Reilly’s effort moments later was just off target.
Steve Lovell’s side continued to press as the half went on, winning six corners as well as a couple of free-kicks in good crossing positions, but they were unable to break down the defences of the visitors as the two sides went in level at the break.
Attacking the goal where 1,037 Blues fans were housed, Southend began the second-half brightly, although Sam Mantom will want to forget his volley that not only missed the target but went over the grandstand behind the goal and out of the ground completely.
Mere seconds later though and all was forgotten as Southend broke the deadlock with a well-taken strike from Cox. The Blues striker looked to have missed his opportunity as he shifted the ball onto his left foot, but he managed to get a shot away and see it take a slight nick to beat Tomas Holy.
Those Blues fans that had travelled across the water were now beginning to dream of a first win at the Priestfield Stadium since 2012 and their dreams were starting to look like a reality when Cox doubled Southend’s advantage three minutes after putting Blues in front.
Southend carried the ball forward with menace and Dru Yearwood played a perfectly timed pass into the run of Cox who calmly slid the ball beyond the advancing Holy to put Blues 2-0 up with over half-an-hour still to play.
Gillingham immediately made a double change before making a third shortly after as their captain Gabriel Zakuani was forced off through injury and they began the put pressure on a Southend back-line who were living dangerously in the final quarter of an hour.
Oxley had to be on top form to keep the home side at bay making two superb stops within a minute. First, he parried wide a bullet header from Byrne at the far post before making a fantastic fingertip save to prevent Conor Wilkinson from scoring with his curling effort.
The Blues custodian was then required to tip Eaves’ low cross-shot wide with another fingertip save before Eaves had a guilt-edged chance at the far post go begging when he headed over from close-range to the frustration of the home fans.
With Gillingham pushing desperately forward, Southend almost wrapped the game up in the final minutes on the break when Ben Coker’s effort deflected off the back of Luke O’Neill and onto the crossbar but Cox’s double had done enough to secure Blues a third straight away win.
Gillingham XI: Holy, O’Neill, Lacey (Stevenson 59’), Ehmer, Zakuani (C) (Wilkinson 68’), Parrett, Eaves, Fuller, Reilly (Garmston 59’), List, Byrne. Subs Not Used: Hadler, Oldaker, Rees, Ogilvie
Blues XI: Oxley, Bwomono, Coker, Turner, Dieng, Cox, Yearwood (Lennon 89’), Mantom (C), Moore, Robinson (McCoulsky 80’), Hendrie. Subs Not Used: Bishop, Kightly, McLaughlin, Klass, Hutchinson
Referee: John Busby
Assistants: Carl Fitch-Jackson & David Avent
Fourth Official: Alan Young
Southend United: Simon Cox 51’, 54’
Southend United: None
Attendance: 5,584 (1,037 Away)