A late Stephen Humphrey winner and a first-half overhead kick from John White condemned Sunderland to fifth-place in League One and the lowest finish in the club’s history.
Chris Maguire’s second-half penalty looked to have earned Sunderland a point and relegated Southend United, but Humphrey’s goal at death changed everything.
The Black Cats paid the price for an awful, timid first-half at Roots Hall where they lacked confidence and effort.
Jack Ross’ men shaded the second-half after a smart double substitution from the Scotsman, but it wasn’t enough, as Sunderland conceded another avoidable, poor goal with time elapsing.
Portsmouth await in the play-offs and Sunderland will have to play much better to beat the side that dramatically claimed the Checkatrade Trophy over them at Wembley.
Sunderland were nearly punished in the opening ten minutes for more substandard defending, they once again had to rely on Jon McLaughlin to bail them out. McLaughlin stood-up tall to save one-on-one from Dru Yearwood, who couldn’t slot past our intimidating goalkeeper.
Alim Ozturk was caught ball-watching, forcing the Sunderland defence into a scrambled frenzy that left Yearwood free to run through on goal from midfield.
Yearwood missed another great chance scuffing when free just inside the visitor’s area. The midfielder was found in far too much space after passive defending from the Black Cats.
Twenty minutes from half-time Sunderland finally threatened. Lynden Gooch found Maguire in space in the United area, Maguire used a smart Cruyff-turn create space to finish, but dragged his shot wide of the near-post.
Sunderland’s best move of the first-half was ruined by a Gooch cross that had to seen to be believed. An enterprising run from Max Power and a perfectly weighted through-ball from Maguire, had Gooch in space 15 yards out, instead of shooting or cutting back to three unmarked Mackems, Gooch fired a driven cross out for a throw-in.
Minutes before half-time Southend took the lead through their skipper, White. White held off Denver Hume to shin in an attempted overhead kick past McLaughlin, who chose not to come for a ball that hung in the air for an age from a Shrimps corner.
Straight after the restart United remained the more aggressive, energetic, motivated side. Stephen McLaughlin narrowly missed the near post with a clever free-kick, that found the side-netting.
The Wearsiders had a big penalty shout turned down. Charlie Wyke was bundled over in the Southend box, but despite being goal-side of his marker and plenty of contact, the referee waved away the claim.
The double swap from Jack Ross to introduce Luke O’Nien and Kazaiah Sterling just before the hour mark completely changed the momentum of the game. The Black Cats went close again, this time through Grant Leadbitter whose powerful long-range free-kick raced just wide, with Mark Oxley beaten in goal.
Sunderland were granted a route back into the game from the penalty spot. Wyke raced onto a long ball the Shrimps didn’t deal with, and was shoved in the back by White before he could finish.
Oxley got a strong hand to Maguire’s penalty, but was beaten by the pace of Maguire’s strike.
Substitute Kazaiah Sterling nearly had the winner ten minutes from time, lashing just high and wide from fellow substitute, Luke O’Nien’s cutback.
Against the run of play United re-took the lead, Humphrey was alive to a second-ball Dylan McGeouch and Flanagan couldn’t deal with. He shot under McLaughlin nutmegging the keeper from close range.
Southend killed the clock well to secure another season in League One, Sunderland will have to play much better to avoid the same fate.
Jon McLaughlin, 5/10: Made one top save, but looked unsure of himself from crosses all afternoon and could have been much more decisive to stop Southend’s opener.
Adam Matthews, 5/10: Looked rusty all game, was caught out a few times defensively and wasteful in possession throughout.
Tom Flanagan, 6/10: Played with much greater confidence then at Fleetwood, used the ball well and played with much better composure in his defending, still at fault for the winner.
Alim Ozturk, 6/10: A few brain-farts put his teammates in trouble, but for the most part it was another solid performance.
Denver Hume, 5/10: Poor outside of a few impressive runs forward, his passing was terrible.
Max Power, 6/10: Alongside Maguire, the only player who showed any intelligence or class in the final third consistently.
Grant Leadbitter, 5/10: Uncharacteristically sloppy on the ball and too passive defensively, again.
Lynden Gooch, 4/10: Produced the worst piece of attacking play from a Sunderland player since the days of Kevin Kyle.
Chris Maguire, 7/10: Linked play well and played like he cared about winning the game, if only he had help from his teammates.
Charlie Wyke, 6/10: Could have won two penalties for his team as he made a nuisance of himself after the break.
Will Grigg, 4/10: Hopefully Grigg locates his first touch in time for the play-offs.
(SUB) Luke O’Nien, 6/10: Part of a double substitution that changed the complexion of that match in Sunderland’s favour.
(SUB) Kazaiah Sterling, 6/10: Had the beating of his man and created a series of inviting chances on the right-wing.
(SUB) Dylan McGeouch, 6/10: Influential in Sunderland’s fight-back, sadly it wasn’t enough.
Man of the match: Chris Maguire