Mark Molesley hailed his “threadbare” Southend side after they ended a 16-game and eight-month wait for a win by giving him his first victory as Shrimpers manager with a 1-0 triumph at Walsall.
Emile Acquah halted a run of six straight league defeats for Sky Bet League Two’s bottom side by firing home an 88th-minute winner, not long after Elijah Adebayo had hit the bar with a penalty for the Saddlers.
Southend created the better chances throughout, particularly in the first half when Walsall goalkeeper Liam Roberts thwarted Brandon Goodship and denied Timothee Dieng on three separate occasions.
But Acquah’s turn and finish into the bottom corner punished Adebayo’s miss from the spot, after Tom Clifford had brought down Cameron Norman, to give Southend a first win since March.
“I’m really delighted for the boys because we feel that win should have come a little bit earlier,” said former Weymouth boss Molesley.
“We haven’t had the rub of the green at times and we’ve been missing key players. But I always knew the win was coming, we always had belief in ourselves.
“We were guilty of not putting our chances away in the first half and I was looking around wondering if it was going to be one of those days.
“But we’ve got a young group there and the way they stood up today I’m proud of every single one of them.
“The boys dug in and they’ve had to wait a while for this win, so we’ll enjoy it.
“We had four outfield substitutes today, which shows how threadbare we are.
“The players were out on their feet at the end and there are people going above and beyond for this club, playing through the pain barrier.”
Walsall’s misery was compounded by a stoppage-time red card for midfielder Alfie Bates for two bookings.
“It was a rubbish performance,” fumed Saddlers boss Darrell Clarke.
“We looked very lethargic, especially in the first half. We can go on about missed opportunities, but the performance in general wasn’t good enough.
“I’ve said to my players, they don’t want to be bog-standard League Two players. I think I’ve got some good players, some decent characters, but they’ve got to start showing it on a consistent basis.
“They can’t just switch it on like a tap. I thought today typified why we’ve drawn too many games this season – the penalty miss and Southend scoring after that sums it up a little bit to be honest.
“I still genuinely believe this side will start reaching the levels I think they are capable of, but we’ve got to get that going sooner rather than later as we don’t want to be playing catch-up as much as we had to do last season, and the penny needs to drop quickly.”