Aramide Oteh’s last minute and hotly disputed penalty cost Blues a deserved three points away at Walsall after Simon Cox had put Kevin Bond’s side ahead with his 17th goal of the season.
Southend were dominant in the opening 45-minutes and made their pressure count when Cox showed great anticipation to get on the end of Mark Oxley’s long ball forward before rounding the Walsall goalkeeper Chris Dunn to slot the ball home.
Blues had chances to kill the game off in the second period, with the best opportunity falling to Elvis Bwomono on the break, but they were pegged back in the final minute when substitute Oteh went down in the area and the referee inexplicably pointed to the penalty spot.
The striker, who’s on loan from QPR, dusted himself off to send Oxley the wrong way and level the game up, costing Blues a win that would have seen them climb out of the relegation zone with three games remaining in the League One calendar.
Instead, Blues boss Kevin Bond was left scratching his head at how Southend hadn’t come away with their first win in exactly three months, but he would have taken a lot of positives away from the afternoon, despite the end result.
Following last weekend’s defeat to Wycombe, Kevin Bond made six changes to his side that would face Walsall with Mark Oxley, Elvis Bwomono, Michael Turner, Dru Yearwood, Taylor Moore and Harry Bunn all coming in as Blues looked to end their winless run.
The hosts Walsall made five changes of their own looking to arrest a run of six straight defeats in a row and they created the first meaningful chance of the game when a deep cross from Nicky Devlin evaded the reach of Oxley only for Andy Cook to miss the target from a tight angle.
From that point on though it was all Southend in the first-half and they went close when a set-piece routine ended with the ball coming out to Sam Hart on the edge of the box. The full-back caught the ball on the volley but his goal-bound effort was deflected over the crossbar by Dan Scarr.
Blues’ push continued with Hart having a couple of further efforts blocked before Rob Kiernan tried to better Hart’s earlier volleyed effort, volleying the ball from the edge of the penalty area and forcing goalkeeper Chris Dunn into a smart save.
Southend were well on top as the half progressed, but assistant Kevin Keen was visibly annoyed when referee Ross Joyce quelled the visitors’ momentum with a drinks break half an hour in, but Blues seemed unperturbed by the impromptu break and would go on to take a deserved lead.
Having struggled with the final ball throughout the half, all it took was an old-fashioned long ball from the back as Oxley’s long punt upfield was misjudged by Connor Johnson. Simon Cox anticipated the defender’s struggles to nip in and round Dunn before slotting the ball into the net to make it 1-0.
Bond and his team though felt that they should have had another one before the interval after Moore put the ball in the back of the net. Dunn fumbled a long ball from Hart before Moore put the loose ball in, but the referee had already blown for half-time to the annoyance of those in sky blue.
Having missed a good chance early in the first-half, Walsall’s number nine Cook missed another opportunity early after the interval when a cross from the Saddlers’ right fell kindly for the striker who screwed the ball wide of Oxley’s near-post.
The home side started to ramp up the pressure and went close again when Joe Edwards somehow kept hold of the ball despite being on the deck, teeing up Corey Blackett-Taylor to fizz the ball across the face of the six-yard box, only just missing the run of Cook at the far post.
Roared on by almost 600 travelling Blues fans, the visitors had the chance to seal the points late on when Bwomono nicked the ball in midfield to start a counter-attack. Southend flew forward as Bwomono found himself clean through on goal, but he put his shot wide.
As Walsall continued to push for an equaliser, Southend kept catching them on the break and had a great chance late on when Charlie Kelman was put through but the young striker didn’t catch his strike the way he would have wanted as Dunn held on.
And those missed opportunities would prove costly as Southend’s miserable luck this season reared its ugly head once more as Walsall were awarded a contentious penalty in the final minute of four added on for a foul on substitute Aramide Oteh.
There appeared to be little contact on the substitute striker but referee Joyce thought otherwise despite Southend’s protestations. Oteh dusted himself off to send Oxley the wrong way and steal away a win and a vital three points from Blues.
Walsall XI: Dunn, Edwards, Leahy, Dobson (C), Devlin, Cook, Ismail (Norman 77’), Kinsella, Johnson, Scarr, Blackett-Taylor (Oteh 68’). Subs Not Used: Roberts, Guthrie, Fitzwater, Osbourne, Laird
Blues XI: Oxley, Bwomono, Turner, Cox, Kiernan, Yearwood (Hyam 65’), Mantom (C), Moore, Bunn (Kelman 79’), Hart (Hendrie 63’), White. Subs Not Used: Bishop, Kightly, McLaughlin, Lennon
Referee: Ross Joyce
Assistants: Gregory Read & Alix Pashley
Fourth Official: Benjamin Speedie
Walsall: Aramide Oteh (p)90+4’
Southend United: Simon Cox 43’
Walsall: Connor Johnson 76’, Aramide Oteh 90+5’
Southend United: Sam Hart 53’, John White 80’, Michael Turner 90+4', Mark Oxley 90+4’
Attendance: 4,624 (595 Away)