PAUL Mullin’s late penalty saw Southend United held to a frustrating 1-1 draw at Tranmere Rovers tonight.

The Shrimpers took an early lead with the returning Tom Hopper on target.

But Blues wasted a number of opportunities to increase their lead before Mullin’s 85th minute spot-kick saw the game end all square.

The Shrimpers went in front after just nine minutes, with Hopper firing home.

The striker – who was making his first start in close to a year – latched onto a fine through ball from Simon Cox before beating the advancing Scott Davies with a dinked, left footed finish.

Blues continued to look threatening and wasted a huge chance to make it 2-0 in the 29th minute when Timothee Dieng headed wide of the right post from close range after Stephen McLaughlin’s deep right-wing cross had been nodded back into his path.

Moments later, an intelligent chip from Cox went just over the crossbar before the hosts hit back with David Perkins dragging a 12 yard shot well wide of the right post.

Tranmere’s Corey Blackett-Taylor then fired over from a similar distance but Blues were back on top at the start of the second half with McLaughlin having a close range header blocked by Davies.

The Shrimpers soon came close to scoring again when a fine counter-attack led to Cox playing a pass to Isaac Hutchinson whose well struck effort was tipped over by Davies.

Blues were unable to add to a second goal and that almost proved costly in the 57th minute when the visitors’ attempts to play it out from the back almost backfired as Nathan Bishop’s attempted clearance struck Stefan Payne firing rebounding inches over the crossbar.

Five minutes later, the Shrimpers made their first change of the night with Stephen Humphrys replacing Hopper in attack and, shortly after his arrival, Humphrys teed up Cox whose scuffed shot was pushed wide of the right post by Davies McLaughlin then fired over from 20 yards but Blues’ wastefulness in front of goal eventually proved costly as the hosts drew back level five minutes from time.

Referee David Webb pointed to the spot after Nathan Ralph appeared to pull down Mullin at the far post as the striker attempted to reach a deep left wing corner.

And Mullin made the most of the opportunity as he slammed the resulting penalty into the roof of the net to ensure the game ended all square.