SOUTHEND United suffered a fourth successive first round exit in the Capital One Cup tonight, losing 2-1 against League One Walsall at Roots Hall.
Ryan Leonard’s stunning long range shot cancelled out Mal Benning’s opener for the Saddlers.
But a spirited showing from the Shrimpers went unrewarded as Walsall substitute Kieron Morris bagged a winner just four minutes from.
Southend boss Phil Brown opted to make seven changes to his starting line-up and the new look side initially started brightly with Ben Coker firing over from a narrow angle in the opening exchanges.
Leonard then also fizzed a long range effort over the crossbar but the Shrimpers struggled to create clear cut changes.
Walsall soon began to get in to the game and opened the scoring in the 25th minute, with Benning on target.
The young striker was picked out by an excellent, low left wing cross from Andy Taylor and guided the ball in to the back of the net, via the underside of the crossbar from six yards.
Blues suffered a further blow just five minutes later when boss Brown was forced in to making his first substitution of the night after Will Atkinson departed following a knock to the head and was replaced in midfield by Conor Clifford.
Immediately after the alteration Walsall remained on top and the visitors thought they had doubled their lead, in the 39th minute.
Tom Bradshaw fired home after Paul Smith had fumbled a deflected long range shot from James Baxendale only for the close range effort to be ruled out for effort.
Having survived the scare, Southend recovered strongly with Jack Payne having a well struck shot parried to safety by Walsall goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell.
He also then did well to rush off his goal-line and deny Lee Barnard after the striker had been sent running clean on goal after an excellent through ball from Clifford.
Barnard was then involved in a major incident on the stroke of half-time after latching onto a loose ball and having his charge towards goal abruptly ended by a mistimed tackle from Paul Downing.
Referee Gavin Ward adjudged the challenge to have taken place just outside the penalty area and then angered the Shrimpers even further by only showing a yellow card to Downing.
After the break, Walsall got back on top with Bradshaw dragging a low shot across the face of goal before Blues replied with Adam Thompson heading a left wing corner from Coker inches wide of the left post.
Blues continued to push for an equaliser with Payne having a 12 yard shot smothered by O’Donnell.
The lively midfielder then struck a skimming long range shot straight at the Saddlers shot-stopper before he brilliantly created a brilliant chance for Shaq Coulthirst.
Payne sent the Tottenham Hotspur loanee clean through on goal with an excellent through ball but Coulthirst could only send his effort wide of the right post.
The opportunity came just moments after Blues’ second change of the night which saw Myles Weston replace David Worrall.
And the home-side were not to be denied an equaliser for long, as Leonard brought them back level with a stunning strike in the 68th minute.
A free kick 25 yards from goal was rolled in to the midfielder’s path and he fired a magnificent effort high in to the roof of the net.
Blues stayed on top and soon almost took the lead when Luke Prosser misdirected Thompson’s volley with an instinctive header, only for O’Donnell to somehow keep the ball out with a stunning save low down to his left.
Coulthirst then sent a low 20 yard shot fizzing just inches wide of the right post and, in the 81st minute, the Shrimpers made their final change with Kevan Hurst coming on to replace Payne against his former side.
But it was a Walsall replacement who made the difference as Morris collected the ball on the penalty area and sent a well struck left foot shot in to the roof of the net to send the Saddlers in to the second round draw.