TOM Hopper’s long awaited return from injury provided Southend United’s only bright-spot on Saturday.

The striker - who had been out for close to a year with a cruciate ligament injury - played the final 19 minutes in place of Nathan Ralph.

And Blues’ caretaker boss Gary Waddock was thrilled to see Hopper back in action.

“I was really pleased Tom was able to get onto the field of play,” said Waddock.

“He’s worked really, really hard and he’s a good pro.

“He’s got himself to a level to get back onto the field but he needs games and minutes to get back to the levels he set before the injury.”

Hopper - who had scored seven games in 14 games before suffering the injury in October 2018 - had played 45 minutes for the under 23 side in Tuesday’s 3-1 win against Maidstone United.

And the 25-year-old will now be looking to build on his comeback.

Hopper was brought back into the squad after midfielder Luke Hyam (Achilles) and centre-forward Stephen Humphrys (thigh) were both forced to miss out while centre-back Harry Lennon also went off with a groin problem in the first half.

“Harry had a groin injury,” said Waddock.

“He felt it going into the game and he felt it early on again so he had to come off.

“We had some injuries today but it’s not an excuse.

“Luke Hyam had an Achilles problem and Stephen Humphrys thigh.

“It gave the players who entered the field of play an opportunity.

“But did they take it?