Southend suffered a third straight home defeat as goals from Liam Sercombe and Gavin Reilly secured Bristol Rovers a 2-1 win at Roots Hall.
Former Blues assistant manager and Rovers boss Graham Coughlan was the mastermind behind the win as the visitors capitalised on mistakes at the back to give them a vital three points.
Rovers opened the scoring when Nathan Bishop was beaten to a long ball over the top, allowing Tom Nichols to tee up Sercombe to score into an empty net.
And as Southend pushed for an equaliser, Rovers caught them on the counter-attack with Nichols again the creator, sliding the ball through to Reilly who calmly slotted home Rovers’ second.
Southend got themselves back into the tie when Dru Yearwood’s dipping shot was mishandled by Jack Bonham, leaving Simon Cox to tap in the rebound to put Blues within one.
Cox then had the ball in the back of the net for a second time after the break but it was ruled out for offside with Southend unable to prevent a third successive loss at home.
The defeat leaves boss Chris Powell still trying to figure out the conundrum that is Southend’s home form as Blues fell a ninth home defeat of the season in the league while Rovers climbed out of the relegation zone as the Gas’ improvement continues under Coughlan.
Following last weekend’s narrow defeat to high-flying Luton Town, Chris Powell went with an unchanged line-up for the visit of Rovers who were unfortunate to concede a late equaliser in their midweek game with Peterborough United.
Despite Bristol’s lowly position in the League One table, the visitors have shown huge signs of improvement since former Blues assistant Graham Coughlan took over after the departure of Darrell Clarke and they made one change, with new-signing Abu Ogogo coming in.
Away from home, the Gas had the best defensive record in the league and Southend struggled to threaten that early on, with Blues having to put their bodies on the line up the other end to stop Gavin Reilly’s effort before John White blocked Liam Sercombe’s rebound.
Rovers’ bright start continued and only a superb double save from Nathan Bishop stopped the visitors going in front inside eight minutes, with the young goalkeeper first saving Ollie Clarke’s strike before somehow saving Reilly’s rebound with a brilliant starfish-style save.
But Bristol’s early dominance wouldn’t go unrewarded as they broke the deadlock midway through the first-half when Tom Nichols beat Bishop to a long ball over the top, teeing up Sercombe who coolly dummied one defender before firing into an empty net to put the visitors in front.
Southend hadn’t been in the game at all up to that point and in an attempt to force their way into it they pushed players forward only to get caught a second time on the counter-attack. Nichols played Reilly in behind before the midfielder slid the ball under Bishop to double Rovers’ lead.
The home fans weren’t being shy about voicing their frustrations, but Blues went into the break with more than a glimmer of hope as Southend got one back. Dru Yearwood’s long-range effort had enough dip on it for Jack Bonham to spill the ball and allow Simon Cox to score from close range.
Chris Powell made a double change at half-time with Michael Kightly and Stephen McLaughlin coming on to help Southend’s push for an equaliser, but Rovers almost immediately restored their two-goal advantage when Reilly rattled the crossbar before Nichols blazed over the rebound.
Blues continued to look susceptible to the counter, but the switch to 4-4-2 overall appeared to give Southend more of a threat going forward and twice they had headers from close range blocked inside the penalty area with Kightly and Cox having good opportunities go begging.
Southend did get the ball in the net for a second time with 20 minutes remaining when McLaughlin’s shot was parried to Cox who tapped in what he thought was his second of the game, but the effort was ruled out by the offside flag to the frustration of the majority inside Roots Hall.
And despite a spirited effort from Southend in the second-half, Rovers stood firm and condemned Southend to a ninth home defeat of the season while Coughlan’s Bristol side climbed out of the relegation zone.
Blues XI: Bishop, Bwomono, Turner (Kightly 46’), Dieng (McLaughlin 46’), Cox, Yearwood, Mantom (C), Moore, Humphrys, Hart (Kelman 81’), White. Subs Not Used: Smith, Klass, Wabo, Hutchinson
Bristol Rovers XI: Bonham, Holmes-Dennis, Lockyer (C), Craig, Sercombe (J Clarke 90+2’), O Clarke, Nichols (Jakubiak 75’), Reilly (Clarke-Harris 59’), Partington, Ogogo, Rodman. Subs Not Used: Smith, Upson, Lines, Osho
Referee: Ollie Yates
Assistants: Rob Smith & Stuart Butler
Fourth Official: Daniel Cook
Southend United: Simon Cox 39’
Bristol Rovers: Liam Sercombe 20’, Gavin Reilly 32’
Southend United: Michael Turner 34’, Sam Hart 58’, Dru Yearwood 62’
Bristol Rovers: Tom Nichols 45+2’, Ollie Clarke 73’, Joe Partington 85’
Attendance: 5,982 (349 Away)