Tom Clifford’s deflected free-kick earned Blues a massive and thoroughly deserved 1-0 win against Newport County at Rodney Parade.
After a goalless first-half bereft of chances, a foul on Timothee Dieng on the edge of the area allowed the full-back a strike at goal which took a wicked deflection off the wall to deceive Nick Townsend and put Southend in with a chance of a vital three points.
Blues had to ride their luck late on as Newport threw everything forward in search of an equaliser with Josh Sheehan and Nicky Maynard having huge chances go begging as Southend held firm for their first win in six matches.
The victory was the perfect riposte to what Mark Molesley described as his ‘lowest point’ as Southend manager following a 5-1 defeat to Port Vale last time out.
After losing so heavily against the Valiant’s, Molesley wanted his side to right the wrongs from that defeat and made four changes to his starting 11 to take on promotion-chasing Newport County at Rodney Parade.
Tom Clifford, Ashley Nathaniel-George, Greg Halford and Nathan Ferguson – the scorer of Southend’s solitary goal at Vale Park – came in to replace the injured Sam Hart, while Tyler Cordner, Kyle Taylor and Simeon Akinola all dropped to the bench.
In bitterly cold conditions in Wales it was the home side that looked the most threatening early on with Priestly Farquharson heading an early corner wide before another cross from the right from Luke Gambin was just too high for Nicky Maynard who was in a good position to score.
What appeared to be quite a clear foul on Nathaniel-George went unpunished as Newport sprung a counter-attack on Blues, ended in Padraig Amond feeding Maynard whose shot was well blocked by the Southend skipper John White.
The visitors had plenty of the ball as the half wore on but on a firm surface were finding it tricky to carve out clear chances, with the best they could muster coming when Nathaniel-George dug out a low ball into the box which Halford failed to bring under control to get a shot away.
Southend though had must the better of the chances in the second-half, with the first coming when Timothee Dieng carried the ball into the box. Nathaniel-George got on the end of the ball and managed to get his shot away but was denied by the legs of goalkeeper Nick Townsend.
Blues continued to threaten and only a despairing lunge from David Longe-King prevented sub Simeon Akinola tapping in an Elvis Bwomono cross before Southend eventually got what their endeavour had deserved with the game’s opening goal.
Mickey Demetriou’s foul on Dieng on the edge of the box gave Tom Clifford the chance to test Townsend with his free-kick. Clifford’s effort took a huge deflection off the wall to wrong-foot the Exiles goalkeeper and nestle in the back of the net with 15 minutes remaining.
No one could argue Southend didn’t deserve the lead and they had a great chance to put some daylight between the two sides when Nathaniel-George’s ball back was played on by Clifford to Reeco Hackett-Fairchild whose effort was blocked.
With such a narrow lead, Newport knew they would have chances to level and they had their best chance of the evening fall to their captain Josh Sheehan who found space inside the box only to drag his effort wide of the goal to the relief of those in light blue.
The Exiles kept throwing everything forward in search of an equaliser and Mark Oxley made a superb reaction save with his legs to keep out Maynard who’d gotten through as Southend navigated three minutes of added on time to secure a deserving victory.
Newport County XI: Townsend, Haynes (Lewis 83’), Farquharson, Dolan (Evans 28’), Amond (Taylor 46’), Sheehan (C), Longe-King, Gambin (Scrimshaw 71’), Maynard, Hartigan (Telford 71’), Demetriou. Subs Not Used: King, Baker
Blues XI: Oxley, Bwomono, Hobson, Dieng, Clifford, Hackett-Fairchild (Cordner 89’), Nathaniel-George, Halford (Akinola 59’), Demetriou, Ferguson, White (C). Subs Not Used: Seaden, Goodship, Howard, Acquah, K Taylor
Referee: Paul Howard
Assistants: Ravel Cheosiaua & Christopher Wade
Fourth Official: Charles Breakspear
Newport County: None
Southend United: Tom Clifford 74’
Newport County: None
Southend United: None