Ryan Leonard’s late wonder strike for Southend at Roots Hall saw them beat a dogged Bury side 1-0 and gain their first win in four matches.
It wasn’t a pretty performance by any means, but Leonard’s strike at the second attempt, which curled beyond Joe Murphy and went in off the underside of the crossbar, was the clear highlight.
Up until that point, Southend had created very little in front of goal with Mark Oxley having to pull off fingertip saves either side of the interval to stop Chris Maguire and Harry Bunn.
Southend were much brighter in the second half but couldn’t breach a rugged Bury defence, that was until Leonard curled in the winner to snatch all three points for Blues.
The win was Southend’s first in the league since the last day in September, lifting the Blues to 13th in the table whilst the visitors remained in the relegation zone.
Ahead of the Peterborough United game, Phil Brown said that he felt these back-to-back home games would define Southend’s season, and having drawn against Posh on Tuesday he knew his side were in desperate need of a win against Lee Clark’s Bury.
Blues welcomed back their captain to the starting line up as Anton Ferdinand returned from suspension after his red card against Doncaster Rovers and the skipper returning was one of two changes for Southend who also brought back Michael Kightly following injury.
Bury came to Roots Hall in the relegation zone but a recent resurgence in form had seen them win three of their last five in all competitions and it was the Shakers who had the game’s first chance.
Chris Maguire won his side a free-kick after being felled by Ferdinand 25-yards out and from the resulting set-piece, Mark Oxley was required to smartly tip Maguire’s effort over the crossbar.
Both sides were finding the windy conditions at Roots Hall tricky to deal with and when Blues had a free-kick wide on the right, Michael Timlin understandably tried to keep the ball on the deck.
In doing so, the make-shift left-back played the ball straight to a Bury defender allowing the Shakers to break and only a last-ditch tackle from Ryan Leonard on Harry Bunn spared Timlin’s blushes.
Southend were continuing to struggle breaking down the Bury defence whilst up the other end, the visitors had two more decent chances to open the scoring through Maguire and Michael Smith.
Some quick passing from the Shakers saw Maguire run through the middle of the Blues defence, leaving him through on goal but the Bury number seven couldn’t lift the ball over Oxley.
Moments later and Smith was found in acres of room in the middle of the penalty box, but he was unable to direct his header on target when he’ll know he should have done much better.
Having created very little in the opening 45 minutes, Blues began the second half in much brighter fashion and carved out three decent opportunities in quick succession early in the half.
Kightly was the focal point for the first two opportunities, firstly seeing his shot blocked by Tom Aldred at the second attempt before sliding the ball through to Josh Wright who was stopped by a last-ditch block by Greg Leigh.
Simon Cox then had a decent chance go begging when he was found inside the area from a corner but he was unable to get his header on target as Southend continued to push for a breakthrough.
A string of saves from Oxley against Peterborough won him the Man of the Match award on Tuesday night and he needed to be on top form again to keep out Bury, fingertipping Bunn’s long-range effort onto the top of the crossbar to keep the scores level.
Oxley’s counterpart, Joe Murphy, had had little to do so far in the game but Jason Demetriou forced the Bury ‘keeper into action with a low drive that was spilt back into play before Aldred got back to clear the rebound away.
The home fans were starting to get restless as Southend continued to spurn chances with Cox bearing the brunt of their angst when he blazed over from outside the area as the rain started to come down.
In what had been a poor game up until that point it was looking like a moment of magic was required to break the deadlock and that duly came with a wonderful strike from Leonard six minutes from time.
After seeing his first shot blocked, the ball fell kindly to the Blues midfielder who took a touch before curling the ball beyond Murphy and in off the underside of the crossbar to spark jubilant scenes.
Bury had little time to burst Southend’s bubble and find an equaliser but they came close almost immediately when Rohan Ince’s strike zipped across the slick surface and had to be tipped away for a corner with Southend holding firm for the win.
Blues XI: Oxley, Wordsworth, Ferdinand (C), Kightly (Ranger 63’), Timlin, Fortune (McLaughlin 68’), Cox (Robinson 90’), Leonard, Demetriou, Wright, White. Subs Not Used: Bishop, Ba, Yearwood, Bwomono
Bury XI: Murphy, Leigh, O’Connell, Maguire (O’Shea 60’), Beckford (C), Reilly, Edwards, Aldred, Laurent (Ince 60’), Smith, Bunn (Williams 77’). Subs Not Used: Fasan, Tutte, Dobre, Shotton
Referee: Gavin Ward
Assistants: Graham Kane & Matthew Lee
Fourth Official: Lee Venamore
Southend United: Ryan Leonard 84’
Southend United: None