WALSALL 0-0 SOUTHEND
Walsall remain 17th in League One after being held to an entertaining goalless draw with in-form play-off chasers Southend.
The Saddlers twice rattled the woodwork through Andreas Makris and Scott Laird, while Neil Etheridge made fine saves to thwart Nile Ranger, Stephen McLaughlin and Anthony Wordsworth.
Walsall came within a lick of paint of taking a seventh-minute lead, when Erhun Oztumer’s deflected cross came to Andreas Makris, who flicked the ball onto the outside of Mark Oxley’s near post.
Play-off chasing Southend, unbeaten in their previous seven, had a big chance to take the lead midway through the first-half.
Nile Ranger drove forward from halfway, powering his way past Josh Ginnelly and Kevin Toner into the box, but his effort, under pressure from Adam Chambers, was blocked by Neil Etheridge.
The Blues threatened again soon after, Anthony Wordsworth with a well-struck 25-yard free-kick which a flying Etheridge held to his left.
Against the run of play, Walsall rattled the woodwork for a second time, as Scott Laird’s cross looped up off a defender and struck the top of the bar.
Southend, though, were the team in the ascendancy, and Etheridge had to be at his best on 31 minutes to finger-tip a powerful McLaughlin strike over the bar.
Another good Shrimpers chance came and went six minutes later, as Simon Cox teed up Wordsworth to fire wide from 12 yards when he should have hit the target.
Etheridge was again called upon before the break, making an impressive reflex stop to tip over Wordsworth’s crisp half-volley.
Then, in-form midfielder Will Atkinson – with three goals in his last two appearances – diverted McLaughlin’s driven cross goalwards, but Etheridge was again in the right place.
Half-time: Walsall 0-0 Southend
The first chance of the second period fell to Walsall on 54 minutes.
Oztumer regained possession inside the Southend half, advanced towards the box and bent a left-footed effort just wide.
Phil Brown’s men had strong shouts for a penalty just before the hour mark, when Matt Preston, brought on at half-time for Kevin Toner, appeared to shove Ranger in the back.
No penalty was given, much to Brown’s clear frustration.
Despite seeing less of the ball, the Saddlers were still posing an occasional attacking threat - Joe Edwards drilling wide after good work from substitute Amadou Bakayoko.
Southend responded with McLaughlin testing Etheridge with a fierce left-footed drive, while at the other end, a deflected attempt from the returning Kieron Morris was held by Oxley.
United had a huge opportunity to get their noses in front with 18 minutes remaining.
A defensive mix-up allowed McLaughlin to go clean through but the onrushing Etheridge made an important save to smother his effort. Walsall had chances late on to score a winning goal.
Scott Laird headed off target from a Jason McCarthy cross, before Oxley beated away Morris’ rasping shot on the turn.
Jackson then cut inside from the left before firing straight at Oxley, for what proved to be the game’s final real opportunity.
Full-time: Walsall 0-0 Southend
Team: Etheridge, McCarthy, O’Connor, Toner (Preston 45’), Laird, Edwards, Chambers, Ginnelly, Morris, Oztumer (Jackson 84’), Makris (Bakayoko 58’).
Subs not used: MacGillivray, Dobson, Osbourne, Kinsella.
Attendance: 4,342 (438 Southend supporters).