Michael Kightly marked his return to the Blues starting line-up by scoring the winner at the Kassam Stadium as Southend won 1-0 away at Oxford United.
In a scrappy contest that rarely went above boiling point, the midfielder nodded in a cross from Theo Robinson with 11 minutes to play to earn Southend a vital three points.
Oxford had had a Jamie Mackie goal ruled out midway through the first-half for offside before Curtis Nelson had a great chance moments later, volleying wide from a free-kick.
Southend struggled to force goalkeeper Simon Eastwood into action with Sam Mantom’s near-post free-kick the most pressure he had been put under.
That was until Kightly headed Chris Powell’s side in front with Blues holding out for an important three points following the disappointment of losing to Rochdale on Saturday.
Despite Oxford’s standing in the league table, the Yellow’s home record of late had been impressive with them winning their last five on the spin at the Kassam Stadium and they came into the game with Blues off the back of a positive result away at Doncaster Rovers on Saturday.
Southend were looking to lift their spirits following that weekend defeat to Rochdale at Roots Hall and Chris Powell made three changes to his starting 11, with John White, Stephen McLaughlin and Luke Hyam making way for Michael Turner, Dru Yearwood and Michael Kightly.
Kightly started the game in a more advanced position to what he normally plays, playing as part of an interchangeable front three with Theo Robinson and Simon Cox, and he was unfortunate not to get a shot away early in the half when he found space inside the penalty area.
Both sides struggled to really get going early on with only half-chances presenting themselves to either side as Elvis Bwomono stabbed an effort over the crossbar moments before Jamie Mackie headed over from close range whilst under pressure.
Mackie then thought he’d given the home side the lead when he tapped in Gavin Whyte’s low cross, only for the lineman to rule his effort out for offside, before Oxford went close again when Cameron Brannagan’s free-kick found Curtis Nelson in acres of space only for the defender to volley wide.
Having gone into the break goalless, Southend started the second-half brightly and a superb mazy run from Dru Yearwood saw him get to the byline and dig out a cross towards the far post which was headed over by Theo Robinson.
Blues continued to push forward as Stephen Hendrie won Southend a free-kick wide on the left. Sam Mantom fizzed the ball in towards the near-post hoping for a slight nick off Robinson who’d run in, but the ball evaded the onrushing striker and into the grateful arms of Simon Eastwood.
With time ticking by, whichever team opened the scoring was likely to claim all three points and Oxford went mightily close when Armani Little’s header forward fell kindly to James Henry whose half-volley went inches wide of Nathan Bishop’s right-hand post.
Southend had failed to really threaten Eastwood in the Oxford goal but with just over 10 minutes remaining, the Yellow’s stopper was picking the ball out the back of his net as Kightly gave Chris Powell’s side the lead.
The Blues number seven instigated the move by sweeping the ball out wide to Robinson who beat his man to get to the touchline and pick out a cross, finding the run of Kightly who powered in his header from six-yards to spark jubilation amongst the 604 travelling Blues fans in the away end.
Blues’ propensity to concede late in games had to be avoided if they were to ensure all three points on the road and Oxford applied the pressure late on with Nelson firing a half-volley on target only for it be bravely blocked by Taylor Moore.
Four additional minutes were shown at the end of the game with seven stoppage time minutes eventually played but Southend would hold out to claim a vital victory ahead of another away trip to Coventry this coming weekend.
Oxford United XI: Eastwood, Dickie, Nelson, Hanson, Brannagan, Browne (Little 71’), Ruffels, Mousinho (C) (Smith 83’), Whyte, Henry, Mackie. Subs Not Used: Mitchell, Garbutt, Raglan, Long, McMahon
Blues XI: Bishop, Bwomono, Turner, Kightly (White 90+1’), Dieng, Cox (Clifford 90+6’), Yearwood (Hyam 78’), Mantom (C), Moore, Robinson, Hendrie. Subs Not Used: Smith, McLaughlin, McCoulsky, Hutchinson
Referee: Tim Robinson
Assistants: Ian Cooper & Sam Lewis
Fourth Official: Richard Hulme
Oxford United: None
Southend United: Michael Kightly 79’
Oxford United: Rob Dickie 45’
Southend United: Elvis Bwomono 73’, Luke Hyam 90’, Simon Cox 90+7’
Attendance: 8,978 (604 Away)