Southend United 1-0 FC Halifax Town: Shaymen defeated as gap cut in race for top three
Kenny Clark gave the hosts a deserved half-time lead, after which Town improved but not to the extent where they could find an equaliser.
Combined with Solihull's win over Aldershot, it means the race for the top three is suddenly a lot tighter.
Jack Senior made his first start in almost a month in place of the injured Tom Bradbury, and twice within the first five minutes nearly set Town on the way to an early lead.
He twice played in Billy Waters down the right side of the home side's back three, the first time ending in Matty Warburton's shot being deflected over, and the second resulting in Harvey Gilmour's shot being tipped over by Steve Arnold.
Town had looked as bright as the sunny conditions in the opening few minutes, but fell behind after 12 when, from a clever short corner, two Town players were attracted to the ball, allowing corner-taker Jack Bridge space to cross, with Clark tapping in from close range as Halifax conceded first for the first time in six games.
Southend were pressing better now after their slow start, with the goal putting a spring in their step but knocking Town out of their rhythm.
Southend were offering better movement and invention, with Halifax looking flat and failing to impose themselves on the contest.
There just wasn't enough composure about The Shaymen, who didn't build a sustained spell of possession or pressure.
Only a flying save by Sam Johnson prevented a second Southend goal from Sam Dalby's curling shot on the half-hour mark.
Harrison Neal then had a shot from range deflected just over, with Southend the far more productive side.
Halifax were showing no signs of getting back into it, repeatedly losing possession, losing 50-50s and looking on the way to losing the match.
Southend were more aggressive, sharper and more cohesive, pretty much everything Town hadn't been.
After the Lord Mayor's show against Chesterfield, Halifax hadn't turned up.
There were signs of improvement shortly after the restart when Warburton had a goalbound shot blocked, moments before Kieran Green had a penalty appeal turned down for a push in the Southend box.
A crucial header by Shaun Hobson then cleared Waters' dangerous cross with Gilmour lurking behind him.
There was more penetration from Halifax, who were playing with greater urgency and fight.
It was Southend who now looked the more edgy and uncertain, going close with a Dalby free-kick, but losing their earlier composure in what was a much more even contest.
However, Dalby almost doubled the hosts' lead against the run of play when he headed a left-wing cross against the bar before being denied a penalty for a push in the back.
Matty Stenson came off the bench having been recalled from his loan at Kidderminster, but made little impact.
Town were dominating the game the more it went on, but struggled to create chances against a stubborn Southend defence.
A good pass by Stenson set-up Waters for a late chance, but his blistering shot was well saved by the underworked Steve Arnold.
Southend: Arnold, Demetriou, Hobson, Clark (Kensdale 46), Gubbins, Davies, Neal, Bridge (Dunne 77), Husin (Atkinson 28), Dalby, Cardwell. Subs not used: Dennis, Powell.
Scorer: Clark (12)
Shots on target: 3
Shots off target: 3
Halifax: Johnson, Warren, Maher (Spence 71), Debrah, Senior, Green, Summerfield, Gilmour (Stenson 63), Warburton (Dearnley 85), Slew, Waters. Subs not used: Thomas, McDonagh
Shots on target: 3
Shots off target: 5
Referee: Robert Massey-Ellis
Attendance: 5,620 (159 away)
Town man of the match: Billy Waters. One of very few Town players who was a threat and looked like making something happen.