Emile Acquah’s late winner earned Southend their first win of the season as they survived a missed Walsall penalty to beat the Saddlers 1-0 at the Banks’s Stadium.
The young striker scored with two minutes of normal time remaining to earn Blues a vital three points and a first win in all competitions for Mark Molesley after Elijah Adebayo had earlier missed from the penalty spot for the home side.
Walsall’s Alfie Bates was then sent off in added on time as Southend held on to spark jubilant scenes from the Blues players, as well as from Molesley and his backroom staff as they finally got the taste of victory.
The win was vindication for Molesley who’d apologised to the fans after a youthful Blues side lose 6-1 on Tuesday to Colchester in the Papa John’s Trophy, but, as promised, the Blues boss brought in all of those he rested for the trip to the West Midlands.
Jason Demetriou came in to make his 150th Southend appearance while John White started a league game for the first time and wore the captain’s armband. In their way were a Walsall side that had proven tough to crack having lost one of their 11 league games.
In a frantic opening 10 minutes of the game in blustery conditions, both sides had early chances to take the lead with Brandon Goodship getting on the end of a Mark Oxley goal kick to be through on goal, only for goalkeeper Liam Roberts to smother the opportunity.
The home side then broke forward and had a chance as Caolan Lavery got the wrong side of the Southend backline only for the combination of Oxley and Timothee Dieng to block the Northern Irishman’s shot.
Chances kept coming as Zak Jules glanced a Walsall corner wide before a poor touch from Oxley almost allowed Elijah Adebayo in to the score, but the Southend ‘keeper was able to get the ball away just in the nick of time.
Oxley then almost got on the scoresheet himself when the bounce on his long clearance almost deceived Roberts up the other end, but shortly after Oxley was needed in more conventional fashion to save Wes McDonald’s effort before producing an excellent save to stop Alfie Bates.
Things eventually quietened down, but Blues looked most likely to score before the interval with Dieng being defined by Roberts three times – first forcing a sharp double-save from the ‘keeper before seeing his header from a Demetriou free-kick pawed wide.
As the heavens opened in the second-half, Walsall had a couple of good chances as Bates fired just wide before McDonald too had a shot from distance go marginally off target as Southend dug deep to keep their hosts at bay.
Up the other end and Goodship forced another decent save out of Roberts when he cut inside and shot from the edge of the box, with Roberts needing to tip the strike away, while his opposite number Oxley needed to be at his very best to deny a Dan Scarr header from a set-piece.
Walsall though would get a huge chance to break the deadlock when they won a penalty after Tom Clifford brought down Cameron Norman. Adebayo stepped up to take the chance, but his penalty struck the crossbar and went over to spare Blues.
And Southend would make the most of their second chance by grabbing a late winner just two minutes from time as substitute Emile Acquah scored his second goal of the season to put Blues on the cusp of a first league win.
The striker received the ball on the edge of the area with his back to goal and fired a low shot, on the turn, which took the tiniest of deflections on its way through to the bottom corner of Roberts’ net as the youngster was mobbed by his teammates in sky blue.
Southend had four minutes of added-on time to negotiate and they were helped by a second yellow card for Bates after a foul on Kazaiah Sterling. Craig Hicks’ final whistle was music to the ears of Southend as the long wait for a win was over and richly deserved.
Walsall XI: Roberts, Norman, Jules, Scarr (C), Kinsella (Osadebe 74’), Lavery (Scrimshaw 64’), Adebayo, Bates, Cockerill-Mollett (Sadler 69’), McDonald, Holden. Subs Not Used: Rose, Sinclair, Guthrie, White
Blues XI: Oxley, Hobson, Olayinka, Dieng, Goodship, Egbri (Sterling 89’), Clifford, Nathaniel-George, Demetriou, Lennon, White (C)(Acquah 65’). Subs Not Used: Seaden, Phillips, Rush
Referee: Craig Hicks
Assistants: Chris Isherwood & Ollie Williams
Fourth Official: Christopher Husband
Southend United: Emile Acquah 88’
Walsall: Alfie Bates 83’
Southend United: Harry Lennon 43’
Walsall: Alfie Bates 90+4’
Southend United: None