SUPERHEROES often spring to prominence wearing masks and that was certainly the case for Stephen Humphrys and Southend United on Saturday.

With just three minutes of the do or die clash with Sunderland left to play, the Shrimpers seemed destined to depart League One.

But, with hopes fading fast and fans starting to fear the worst, Humphrys fired home to spark scenes of joy not seen since Joe Pigott’s injury time equaliser at Wembley back in 2015.

Fans poured onto the pitch at the final whistle and celebrated alongside the players in joyous scenes which will certainly live long in the memory.

Now, there will be those that perhaps quite rightly point out that with Southend’s squad and budget they should never have been in such a perilous position in the first place.

However, this was a season quite like no other and, just when you thought it could not get any worse, it did.

The Shrimpers were hit by a succession of injuries and continually seemed to find ways of snatching defeats and draws from the jaws of victory in the most painful way possible.

From an injury time own goal at Blackpool to the softest of penalties in the fourth minute of stoppage time at Walsall, Blues were continually hit late on in quite cruel circumstances.

Adding to that, the poor run of results – which seemed set to end in relegation - saw the popular Chris Powell dismissed as manager in a move which, although correct, would undoubtedly have hurt supporters.

Throw that all together alongside a number of poor performances and a 15 match winless streak and, in truth, there had been little to raise the spirits.

But, despite the difficulties, the fans kept coming in big numbers.

The away support at Walsall and Rochdale in recent weeks was quite simply staggering and so was the noise generated in the win against Burton Albion at Roots Hall last month.

However, nothing came close to matching Saturday as 10 long months of mostly pain and misery ultimately ended in the unlikeliest of victories.

Sunderland arrived at Roots Hall having suffered less defeats than any other team in League One while Blues had previously failed to beat a top eight team, taking just two points from a possible 45.

But, just when it was needed most, the Shrimpers showed the fighting spirit and the character which had been missing for most of the season to pick up the points needed to stay up on goal difference.

And the celebrations which followed were simply the emotional release of a whole season's worth of worries, frets and frustration.

Humphrys’ goal will forever be a part of Roots Hall folklore but for him to even be on the pitch was equally as heroic.

Back in February, the striker suffered the most horrific of facial injuries when scoring against Accrington Stanley as he suffered 15 separate breaks which resulted in him having to have eight metal plates inserted.

Humphrys, who was unable to even run for five weeks, will require more surgery in the next few weeks.

But on Saturday he put his body on the line to boost Blues and so too did his fellow goalscorer John White, who finished the game with a broken arm.

Such determination will be needed again in the months ahead and the challenge now facing the Shrimpers is to ensure that next season is not one of similar struggles.

But Blues face a pivotal summer if that is to be the case.

The managerial situation must first be resolved and chairman Ron Martin must quickly decide who will be bossing Blues next term.

Kevin Bond led the Shrimpers to safety with eight points from six games but it remains to be seen whether or not he will remain at Roots Hall.

However, the recruitment of players will be equally as important.

Last summer Blues got it wrong in the transfer market, signing too many injury-prone players who spent much of the season on the sidelines.

Similar mistakes cannot be made this time around and the Shrimpers must, if possible, add aggression, bite and leaders to the squad to ensure Saturday’s celebrations can be the start of something even more special.