KANE Ferdinand denied Southend United a crucial victory on his return to Roots Hall tonight.

The Maidenhead midfielder, who came through the Shrimpers youth ranks, fired home a second half equaliser to cancel out Rhys Murphy’s opener.

And the share of the spoils kept the relegation rivals level on points, with Blues just above the drop zone on goal difference.

The crunch clash was halted in the sixth minute to allow both sets of supporters and teams to applaud for 60 seconds in memory of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes.

But once play resumed it was the visitors who threatened with Josh Kelly having a low, 20 yard shot smothered by Shrimpers goalkeeper Steve Arnold.

Moments later, Kelly just failed to connect with a dangerous left wing cross before Blues replied with Louis Walsh seeing his cross-shot from the right hand side pushed behind for a corner by visiting custodian James Holden.

However, excitement and goalmouth action remained in short supply until the Shrimpers broke the deadlock on the stroke of half time, with Murphy on target for the ninth time this season.

The striker was picked out by a low ball into the box from birthday boy Sam Dalby before he turned sharply to fire home a low effort from six yards out.

Blues remained on top and came close to doubling their lead seconds before the break when Walsh broke forward and rolled a fine pass into the path of Dalby.

He immediately teed up Murphy but his well struck shot was impressively kept out by Holden in the final action of the opening half.

After the break, Maidenhead – who also included ex Shrimper Emile Acquah in their starting line-up – came close to equalising with Kelly firing inches past the left post after a bright burst into the box.

But the visitors soon wasted an even clearer chance to draw back level when Dan Sparkes blocked an attempted clearance from Arnold only to then fire a tame effort cross straight at the relieved shot-stopper.

The Shrimpers responded by making their first change of the night in the 65th minute with Terrell Egbri taking the place of Walsh on the right hand side.

But it was the visitors who continued to threaten with Kelly seeing his cross blocked on the line by Murphy before the winger also fired wide of the left post from close range.

However, Maidenhead eventually made their pressure count in the 73rd minute with Ferdinand on target.

The former Blues midfielder was picked out by a left wing cross from Kelly and scored with a well-taken effort from 12 yards which flew into the right hand side of the North Bank net.

The Shrimpers soon wasted a great chance to go back in front with Murphy blazing over from 10 yards before the hosts made their second change in the 82nd minute with midfielder Lewis Gard replacing Will Atkinson on his return from a two month loan spell with Heybridge Swifts.

But there was to be no late drama as both sides ultimately had to settle for a point in their ongoing battle to beat the drop.