Southend began the New Year with a 2-0 win against near-neighbours Gillingham with goals from Sam Mantom and Taylor Moore the difference at Roots Hall.
Mantom gave Blues the lead when his set-piece into the area floated all the way through and into the back of Tomas Holy’s net to put Southend in front five minutes before the break.
Chris Powell’s side were indebted to young goalkeeper Nathan Bishop for keeping the home side in front, with the ‘keeper pulling off a string of top saves to claim his second senior clean sheet.
But the end of the game wasn’t without controversy as moments after Theo Robinson was sent off, Gills thought they’d levelled deep into stoppage time following a goalmouth scramble.
Connor Ogilvie thought his header had crossed the line, but the linesman was unmoved, leaving Cox to run clean through on goal and tee up Taylor Moore to wrap up the points.
The victory was the perfect tonic for Southend after the disappointment of Saturday’s defeat to Coventry City – keeping up their alternate win/loss streak – and was a third win in a row against their Kent-rivals, Gillingham.
Blues boss Chris Powell made three changes following the 1-0 reversal at the Ricoh Arena with Michael Turner and Harry Bunn coming in alongside youngster Isaac Hutchinson who was making his first league start for Southend as part of a front three.
Gillingham welcomed back their top scorer Tom Eaves to the starting line up and he looked threatening almost straight away, heading just wide from a Callum Reilly free-kick inside the first five minutes of the game.
Southend could only must half-chances early on with Bunn, Timothee Dieng and Theo Robinson having stabs at goal that were fended off by Tomas Holy before his opposite number, Nathan Bishop, had to be at his best to parry away Luke O’Neill’s free-kick midway through the half.
Chances for either side kept coming with Hutchinson forcing a smart save from Holy at his near post before the home side broke the deadlock with five minutes of the half remaining through skipper Sam Mantom’s free-kick.
The Southend captain delivered his set-piece into a dangerous area, looking for a flick on by anyone in a Blue shirt only for the ball to fly all the way through and into the back of the net to give Powell’s side the lead going into the interval.
It could have been a very different story at the break however as Gillingham’s dangerman, Eaves, had two great chances to level before half-time – first heading over another O’Neill free-kick from close range before being prevented by a superb save by Bishop low to his right when one-on-one.
Gills were dealt an injury blow early in the second-half with Billy Bingham trudging off, being replaced by former Southend schoolboy Josh Rees and Rees was involved straight away for the away side, with Bishop having to show good hands to gather the midfielder’s low strike.
Bishop was being kept busy in the second-half as Gillingham pushed for an equaliser and he pulled out a remarkable save to tip over Mark Byrne’s dipping half-volley before showing great reflexes to push at Eaves’ header from close range.
The tension around Roots Hall was building as time ticked by and with such a slender lead, Blues desperately needed a second to ensure the three points and Robinson went close to doubling Southend’s advantage with a curling effort that went just over the crossbar.
Powell threw on John White for Bunn in an attempt to shut up shop and hold onto their one-goal advantage, but they had to finish the game with 10 men after Theo Robinson picked up two yellow cards in quick succession, receiving his marching orders for a foul on Bradley Garmston.
But in the dying seconds, a Gillingham free-kick caused a scramble inside the penalty area with the visiting side adamant that the ball had crossed the line following Connor Ogilvie’s header, but the referee’s assistant kept his flag down as the Gills players appealed.
While Gillingham were protesting, some quick thinking from Bishop saw him launch the ball out to Simon Cox who was unmarked and in acres of space, taking his time to slide the ball onto Taylor Moore to tap in and secure Southend a vital victory.
Moore’s first goal of the season had Powell dancing down the touchline as the Gillingham players continued to argue their case to the referee, but the Blues fans didn’t care as they celebrated a win against their local rivals.
Blues XI: Bishop, Bwomono, Turner, Dieng, Yearwood (Cox 75’), Mantom (C), Moore, Bunn (White 85’), Robinson, Hendrie, Hutchinson (Hyam 59’). Subs Not Used: Smith, Kightly, McLaughlin, McCoulsky
Gillingham XI: Holy, O’Neill, Garmston, Lacey, Zakuani (C), Eaves, Reilly (List 84’), Parker, Bingham (Rees 50’), Byrne, Ogilvie. Subs Not Used: Hadler, Hanlan, Nasseri, Simpson, Oldaker
Referee: Keith Stroud
Assistants: Geoffrey Russell & Adrian Waters
Fourth Official: Lloyd Wood
Southend United: Sam Mantom 40’, Taylor Moore 90+5’
Southend United: Elvis Bwomono 74’, Theo Robinson 89’
Gillingham: Billy Bingham 39’
Southend United: Theo Robinson 90+4’
Attendance: 7,093 (518 Away)