Joe Dodoo, Luke Murphy and Daryl Murphy got on the scoresheet at Bolton registered three goals in a league game for the first time since May 2018, when they avoided Championship relegation with a 3-2 victory against Nottingham Forest.
They also won a league game after conceding first – which they did 10 minutes in with a free header from Harry Lennon – for the first time since March 2017.
Sol Campbell’s Shrimpers led early on but then lost goalscorer Lennon to a suspected broken leg.
They conceded twice in 11 minutes at the end of the first half as volleys from Dodoo and Luke Murphy put Bolton into the ascendancy. Daryl Murphy then grabbed his sixth goal in seven league games, capitalising on a bad mistake from Tim Dieng.
But nine minutes before the end Dieng pounced to steer home a set piece to ensure a nervous finale.
Bolton held on and are now just two points behind Southend at the foot of the table with four games in hand.
“I am exhausted, to be honest,” he said. “There was a lot of emotion on the touchline, as much as you could go through in a game.
“There was a lot of expectation to beat Southend but the people who expect us to beat them don’t actually look at Southend and the squad of players they have got, they look at ‘Bolton should be beating Southend’.
“We have done that but we knew it would be a difficult game looking at their player roster. They were coming away from home with nothing to lose and they went straight from the gun.
“We didn’t start bright but we responded really well. I am really pleased with the result, especially for the players because since we have been here they have gone through everything. Ten seasons in three months. So for them to show that bit of bravery was great.
“They can make mistakes, football mistakes, and still come out victorious at home.
“Our home form has been really good and they are doing what we’re asking of them so I am pleased with them going into Christmas and that the supporters are getting a bit of reward because they have been smashed around. We are scoring goals now.”
It was by no means a vintage Bolton performance and some of the defensive mistakes did leave fans with hearts in mouths for spells of the game.
Hill accepted there would need to be a general improvement if his side were to take points from Sunderland on Boxing Day.
“Game management can improve,” he said. “The amount of free kicks we gave away today has got to improve. Conceding from set plays has got to improve. If we’d done that today we’d have won comfortably.
“When we’re 3-1 up going into the last 20 minutes of the game I want to see us control the game, making sure it’s 3-1, potentially 4-1, instead of a potential heartbreak.
“It’s exciting and most of the games we’ve played here have been exciting. I won’t complain because we’ve got the three points. We still have a lot of games to play.”