Undoubtedly it couldn't have come at a better time. Following the confidence boosting FA Cup replay victory at Canvey Island on Wednesday night Southend needed a positive result not only to lift morale further still but more importantly to drag the Club away from the foot of the Division table.
Indeed this was also Southend's first League home victory since the 1-0 victory over Bury at the back end of August, but nobody can deny that the scoreline wasn't justified and the Shrimpers - led by Steve Tilson for the moment - will hope that this will be the catalyst for a turnaround in fortunes under the new boss, whoever he may be.
The only change from the side which grabbed that last-minute win at Park Lane saw loanee Lewis Hunt - unavailable for selection in the FA Cup - return to the back line in place of Mark Warren, whilst Jim Cornett played in a much more offensive role continously partnering Tesfaye Bramble on the frontline.
Strangely, and actually against Football League regulations, referee Steve Tomlin allowed both sides to play in blue shirts, albeit Southend's a somewhat darker shade than Dale's. It seems however the the visitors had little option as their away kit is apparantly black!
Anyhow the clash of kits had no effect on United's performance as Bramble's two goals within three first half minutes just after the half hour mark set the Shrimpers on their way to a victory which after that double strike was never really in doubt. Incidentally it was the first time Tes had found the Roots Hall net since January - all his goals have come away from home - and that, ironicaly, was a last gasp winner against the same opponents.
The home side had the upper hand right from the off and in just the eighth minute Bramble's header from a Mark Gower cross brought a great low save out of Rochdale goalkeeper Neil Edwards. Then, another three minurtes later Leon Cort nodded a Kevin Maher cross inches off target.
Gary Jones could have done better for the visitors when he fired well over Darryl Flahavan's crossbar despite being left unmarked following a centre by Sean McClare, but that was the only time the Lancastrian side threatened untol they recieved a controversial penalty seconds before half time.
However, in the meantime United continued in the descendancy and a fine Neil Jenkins run eventually saw Gower nod his cross at Edwards at the far post before Jim Corbett, neatly played through on goal by Bramble saw his low drive tipped around the post by Edwards.
An impressive run by Gower then saw Jenkins superb diving header met with an equally fine stop by Edwards before the lead arrived on 34 minutes. It all stemmed from a right flank Gower cross which caused sheer confusion in the Rochdale box and the ball eventually ricocheted off of Wayne Evans before bouncing across the face of goal where Bramble reacted quickest to poke home from close range.
Southend advantage was doubled just two minutes later and it was the same duo who combined again. This time Gower's centre from the same wing fell perfectly for Bramble at the far post who volleyed a superb angled shot past Edwards and in off the post from the most acute of angles.
Those two goals really put Southend in the driving seat but the Shrimpers were put somewhat out of their stride when the penalty arrived in the final minute of the first period. As a looping cross by Gary Jones drifted in from the left it seemed unclear at the time as to what referee Tomlin awarded the spot kick for but it later appeared thst David McSweeney had handled the ball. Anyway once Tomlin had intervened in a tussle between McSweeney and Leo Bertos, Lee McEvilly eventually stepped up, but he obviously wanted to emulate England Rugby World Cup hero Jonny Wilkinson and smashed his shot high and proud over the crossbar much to the obvious delight of the supporters in the South Stand.
Following a Corbett run which ended in a neat cut back before feeding the ball to Gower who in turn flicked on for Bramble to drill a 25 yard effort into the side-netting, the visitors enjoyed their best spell of the match but unfortunately for them it only brought half-hearted efforts from firstly Bertos and then McEvilly.
A fine 30 yard shot from Maher flew just off target on 61 minutes before United were given a spot kick of their own six minutes later. Again it was somewhat harsh, but Tomlin was obviously tying to even up his earlier decision and blew up having spotted a tug on Leon Cort by Gareth Griffiths. Then a fantastic piece of sportsmanship saw Bramble, on a hat-trick of course, refuse to take the kick and despite being handed the ball by Jay Smith the man who has missed his last four penalties passed it onto Corbett. The former Blackburn Rovers man took his chance brilliantly and placed his kick past Edwards and into the bottom left hand corner for his first League goal in a United shirt and in the process virtually putting the match beyond all doubt
Southend still looked for more however and Jenkins headed a Gower cross into the arms of Edwards before Gower himself saw a cracking 35 yard effort pushed around the upright by the visiting custodian.
Smith then volloyed wide after a neat short corner routine involving Gower and Corbett saw the former swing a cross into the area before Dale were reduced to ten men with five minutes left on the clock. McClare was probably only going to be cautioned for his reckless foul on McSweeney, but having started a fight with the same player Tomlin quite rightly dismissed the central defender, although for the record McSweeney was possibly a bit fortunate to get away with his part in proceedings.
With five minutes plus injury time left on the clock Southend searched for that elusive fourth goal and shortly after Smith had smashed 30 yard shot over the top via the hand of Edwards it arrived. Leon Constantine had only been on the pitch a matter of seconds as a replacement for Bramble when, thirty seconds into stoppage time, he brilliantly took advantage of a mistake by Evans to spot Edwards off his line and lob a great shot into the far corner from 20 yards.
At last Southend had won a home match, and at last Southend had completely rattled a side. Let's hope there's more of it to come...
(Oh Mark, if only you knew!)
Tesfaye Bramble 34, 36
James Corbett 67 (pen)
Leon Constantine 90
Referee: Steve Tomlin
Match Time: 93:47
Tesfaye Bramble --
Simon Grand --
Sean McClare --
Leo Bertos --
Total Goal Attempts
TLG Man Of The Match - Tesfaye Bramble
Quite simply worked his socks off all afternoon. Bramble was a constant danger in attack, defending when need be and was always looking for the ball, and if it was there to be won he won it. Fully deserved his two first half goals and a superb piece of sportsmanship in giving the penalty to Corbett. It's nice to know that Tes puts the team before himself, he knows he's missed his last few penalties so thought it was better off going to another man. Well done Tes!
NATIONWIDE LEAGUE DIVISION THREE - Sunday, 22nd November 2003.