The Hatters put behind them their disappointing opening-day defeat by earning a win and their first points of the campaign at Southend in a teatime seaside fixture to accommodate the television cameras.
John Rooney put County ahead early on for the second Saturday running to secure a single goal victory and the club’s first triumph at Roots Hall since 1977.
County took to the field for a first competitive match at Roots Hall in almost nine years, showing five changes from the starting line-up against Dagenham & Redbridge a week earlier. Scott Quigley and Arjan Raikhy earned their first-team debuts, while Jordan Keane, Ash Palmer and Ryan Rydel were also brought in – with Will Collar, Will Fish, Liam Hogan, Tom Walker and Ben Whitfield the players to make way. Paddy Madden wore the captain’s armband in Hogan’s absence.
The hosts, for their part, fielded ex-Hatter Sam Dalby, who had turned out for County four times, whilst on loan from Watford, during the previous season – and scored his new club’s goal that secured victory at King’s Lynn on the new campaign’s opening day.
The Hatters launched the first attack of the early evening, as Macauley Southam-Hales’ looping cross from the right was headed into the far side-netting by Rooney with less than a minute on the clock. And with fewer than five played, Raikhy fashioned the first attempt on target, courtesy of a low drive that home goalkeeper Steve Arnold parried clear.
Quigley was in the wars five minutes later, and replaced by Alex Reid in attack, after he pulled up, while chasing a long ball from Raikhy, with a recurrence of the hamstring problem that had prevented his participation against Dagenham.
But on the quarter-hour, County’s frustration turned to jubilation, as Rooney picked up a loose ball on the edge of the area, took a touch and fired into the top-left corner of the net to put the Hatters in front.
Reid went close to doubling the advantage with an effort that bobbled narrowly past the right post, before the ‘Shrimpers’ created their first chance of note – with Nathan Ferguson drilling his low shot wide of the corresponding upright at the other end.
Much of the later first-half action was in the Hatters’ final third, as Ben Hinchliffe tipped behind shots by Harry Phillips and Jason Demetriou, Rhys Murphy headed over, and Referee Smith waved away two penalty appeals from the home side following a challenge on Dalby and a suspected County handball.
HALF-TIME: Southend 0, County 1 (Rooney, 15).
The hosts, like County, had endured a forced early substitution due to injury. And it was Abu Ogogo’s first-half replacement, Terrell Egbri, who unleashed the inaugural shot – which he blazed over – after the break.
Murphy also cleared the Hatters’ crossbar with a chipped effort, Egbri fired another high and wide, and Josh Coulson connected with a Phillips free-kick to head over, as Southend strove to get back on level terms. A further, failed penalty appeal, after Murphy went to ground, served to intensify proceedings with a quarter of an hour left.
There remained time for Murphy to go close with a low shot that fizzed narrowly shy of the right post, before the Hatters stood firm during five added minutes to send their first travelling contingent of fans in over 17 months home happy..
FULL-TIME: Southend 0, County 1 (Rooney, 15).
Team (3-4-1-2): Hinchliffe; Keane, Palmer, Barclay; Southam-Hales, Raikhy (Collar, 54), Croasdale, Rydel; Rooney (Whitfield, 80); Quigley (Reid, 11), Madden.
Unused Subs: Ross, Pye.
Booked: Rydel, Madden, Croasdale.
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.