Mansfield Town suffered their third home defeat in Sky Bet League Two this season, as they were beaten 2-1 by play-off chasing Southend United.
Ryan Leonard’s wonder-strike on the quarter-hour mark gave the Shrimpers a lead, before David Worrall doubled the lead with a powerful finish on 71 minutes.
Mansfield set up a grandstand finale as substitute Ollie Palmer grabbed his first goal of the season, but it wasn’t to be as the visitors held on to pick up three points.
Manager Paul Cox made one change to his start line-up with Martin Riley returning in place of the injured Ritchie Sutton.
After a very quiet opening few minutes, Southend began to assert their authority on the game and apply some pressure, which had their counterparts defending frantically.
The Shrimpers should have taken the lead with their first opportunity of the afternoon on eight minutes.
Myles Weston worked his way into the area from the left channel and played a dangerous low ball across the goalmouth towards strike-partner Barry Corr, who somehow sliced the ball wide.
Southend continued to press forward and created another gloriously opening just five minutes later, when Weston outmuscled Riley in an aerial challenge to cut inside again – this time from the right flank.
Weston showed excellent footwork to keep hold of the ball and work his way into a shooting position, but when he let fly, his effort was bravely blocked by Liam Marsden, who came sliding in from nowhere.
Nevertheless, with Southend well on top, it wasn’t long until they eventually opened the scoring.
The Shrimpers had already looked threatening in a couple of previous corners and in an extremely well-worked move, Michael Timlin drilled a low corner towards the semi-circle on the edge of the area.
Gary Deegan’s clever dummy allowed an unmarked Ryan Leonard to rifle a shot goalwards, which cannoned off the underside of the woodwork, hit Sascha Studer on the back and went in the net.
It was a lead that Southend deserved and things soon nearly got even better when David Worrall’s set-piece cross found John White lurking, but the Blues’ skipper headed over.
Mansfield’s first opportunity came on 24 minutes when Jamie McGuire was fouled by Jakub Sokolik around 30 yards out, but Rakish Bingham curled the resulting set-piece just wide of the right-hand post.
The Shrimpers’ defence then dealt with crosses from Rob Taylor and Marsden as the hosts ‘upped their game’, but clear-cut openings were still proving hard to come by.
Southend always looked likely to double their lead and that nearly proved to be the case just after the half-hour mark.
Corr showed excellent skill to bring the ball under control following a corner from the right and he let fly with a powerful drive from eight yards, which was parried by a grounded Studer – leaving Taylor to mop up the resulting loose ball.
The Stags responded with some territorial pressure, but the best effort that they could muster up was a speculative attempt from Dan Bentley, which lacked the accuracy to trouble Dan Bentley.
Marsden caused a couple of problems with his trademark long-throws, but in the only minute of injury-time at the end of a disappointing first half, the Shrimpers again went exceptionally close.
On this occasion, Weston’s low pull-back found Corr lurking unmarked on the edge of the area and his thunderous attempt looked destined for the top corner, but Studer somehow pulled off a remarkable save.
The second half started very much like the first half, with little in the way of goalmouth action in the early exchanges.
Again, however, the Shrimpers got on the front-foot and created a couple of quick-fire opportunities from which they should have found the target to go 2-0 up.
Phil Brown’s team again applied pressure from set-pieces and Weston and left-back Jerome Williams both went close following another great delivery by Timlin.
Timlin then almost turned from provider to scorer as less than 60 seconds later, he latched onto White’s long ball towards the back-post, but the ex-Swindon Town man couldn’t direct his header goalwards.
With time ticking, Mansfield realised the need for change and Chris Clements replaced McGuire, who was walking a tightrope having been booked earlier on, before Bell came on for Daniel Carr on the hour mark.
The changes also saw the Stags change shape to a 3-2-2-1-2 style formation, which proved effective as they were on top for the next 10 minutes or so.
Clements whipped in a free-kick towards the back-post which was flicked wide at the expense of a corner. Then, just moments later, Marsden hooked up for Oliver, who headed over.
With the Stags looking more promising going forward, they were then on the end of a sucker punch as Southend doubled their advantage.
Worrall got on the end of a long ball towards the edge of the six-yard box and with time and space in his favour, the midfielder unleashed a thunderous drive, which beat Studer at his near-post.
The match was now slipping away from Mansfield and they made their final substitution just seconds later as on loan forward Oliver was withdrawn for Ollie Palmer.
At this point, with confidence flowing through their veins, Southend pressed hard to extend their lead further.
Williams squandered a good opportunity – heading wide from Timlin’s free-kick, before the left-back broke away in a counter-attacking move and squared a teasing ball across the goalmouth, but nobody could connect.
Mansfield then set up a grandstand finale as substitute Palmer smashed the ball home from five yards out, having capitalised on a mix-up in the Shrimpers’ defence.
The goal was the catalyst for a comeback and Paul Cox’s team nearly rescued a point with five minutes remaining, when Bell’s low, bouncing drive went wide – after Marsden’s throw caused havoc in the area.
Ultimately, despite four minutes of injury-time, it wasn’t to be, as Southend held on to record a precious three points, which keeps them in contention for a play-off place.
Attendance: 2,719 (325 away supporters).