Blues’ fight for survival goes down to the final day of the season after Ian Henderson’s solitary strike was enough for Rochdale to beat Southend 1-0 at the Crown Oil Arena.
In tricky conditions, clear chances were at a premium in the first-half with Blues going closest when Taylor Moore’s looping header had to be tipped over by Josh Lillis.
Rochdale though would open the scoring early in the second-half, capitalising on a mistake from Timothee Dieng whose wayward back-pass resulted in a corner for the home side.
From the set-piece, Ethan Hamilton fired the ball on target, forcing a save from Mark Oxley, only for their captain Henderson to score what turned out to be the winner from close range.
In front of a superb 1,115 away fans, Southend thought they grabbed a late point when Stephen McLaughlin had the ball in the net in stoppage time, but it was ruled out for offside.
Victory for Rochdale secured their League One status for next season, while Blues now have to wait until the final game of the campaign against Sunderland at Roots Hall.
Having waited so long for a victory prior to last weekend’s 3-2 win over Burton Albion, Kevin Bond will have been disappointed that his side weren’t able to build on that morale-boosting win on Easter Monday with another victory this afternoon.
The Blues boss made two changes to the side that beat the Brewers last time out with Luke Hyam and Stephen Hendrie coming in for Dru Yearwood and Sam Hart, but with little over 10 minutes played, Bond had to change his plans as Hyam was forced off with a hamstring injury.
With both sides knowing that they could make themselves safe this afternoon, it made for a nervy opening first-half with Callum Camps having a couple of half-chances for the home side, forcing Mark Oxley into a routine save before screwing another shot wide.
Southend looked most threatening on the break and had a couple of opportunities to get the likes of Simon Cox and Harry Bunn through, but their best chance came from a set piece which Taylor Moore headed towards goal, requiring goalkeeper Josh Lillis to tip the defender's header over the bar.
Neither side could break the deadlock before the interval, but Blues found themselves behind early in the second-half after a lapse in concentration from Timothee Dieng gifted Rochdale a corner which they took full advantage of to take the lead through Ian Henderson.
A loose back-pass from Dieng resulted in the corner which fell to Ethan Hamilton on the edge of the area. The midfielder’s half-volley was well saved by Oxley, but the Southend stopper couldn’t hold onto the ball, allowing Henderson to tap in from close range and give Rochdale the lead.
For Blues to prevent their survival fight going down to the final day they needed to grab two goals to turn the contest around, but they almost fell further behind moments after going a goal down when another Rochdale corner was headed just wide by Henderson.
The home side had another opportunity to extend their lead snuffed out when Camps looked to be through on goal only for a superb last-ditch block from Michael Turner preventing the Dale from going further in front.
Southend Chairman Ron Martin had laid on free travel for Blues fans for their final away game of the season and they snapped up that offer in their droves, with 1,115 Southend fans making plenty of noise in the away end and trying to spur their side onto an equaliser.
Bond threw on a couple of more attacking options in Michael Kightly and Stephen McLaughlin as the visitors went in search of that leveller, but it wouldn’t materialise, although McLaughlin did have the ball in the back of the net in stoppage time only for it to be ruled out for offside.
The final whistle sparked a pitch invasion from the Rochdale fans as they celebrated securing their place in League One next season while Southend now must go into next weekend’s visit of Sunderland knowing they need at least a point for them to stay in the third tier.
Rochdale XI: Lillis, McNulty, Ebanks-Landell, Williams (Dooley 72’), Camps, Keohane, Wilbraham, Hamilton, Pyke (Done 63’), Bunney, Henderson (C)(Andrew 87’). Subs Not Used: Nthle, Delaney, Adshead, Wade
Blues XI: Oxley, Bwomono, Hyam (Dieng 13’)(Kightly 60’), Turner, Cox, Kiernan, Mantom (C), Moore, Bunn, Hendrie (McLaughlin 60’), White. Subs Not Used: Bishop, Yearwood, Kelman, Hart
Referee: Mr B Toner
Assistants: Mr D Ford & Mrs N Aspinall
Fourth Official: Mr M Edwards
Rochdale: Ian Henderson 53’
Southend United: None
Rochdale: M.J Williams 37’
Southend United: None
Attendance: 5,000 (1,115 Away)