Preview: Southend United

A new season is upon us and we head into a new chapter in the club’s history not really knowing what to expect.

Playing outside of the city (once again) and with an overhauled squad there are more than a few unknown factors that will take a while to resolve themselves. What impact will playing at St Andrew’s have? Which of our new signings will prove to be a success? How will they blend into a team-unit?

This opening month of the season is likely going to be about this new team-unit gelling in their new environs – especially as there looks to be one or two pieces of business still to be done. It is hard to see us attacking the new campaign with momentum but getting off to a good start in this opening day fixture against Southend United would calm the nerves and buy some time for Mark Robins to bring things together.

Expected Line-Up

With injury concerns over Liam Kelly, Jamie Allen, Dominic Hyam, and Gervane Kastaneer, along with Maxime Biamou being unlikely to be fully fit after spending most of last season out injured, Mark Robins’ team selection for this game is likely to be dictated by who is available over the preferred team he might otherwise have had in mind.

Marko Marosi in goal, Fankaty Dabo at right-back, and potential captain for the day Kyle McFadzean seem certain to be handed their debuts. At the time of writing, it is not clear just whether Dominic Hyam is likely to be available for this game, although having missed the final few pre-season friendlies, Hyam risks having allowed his chief competition for a starting role, Michael Rose, a run at putting himself in the manager’s thinking.

Possible Line-Up

In midfield, it would be a huge blow if both Liam Kelly and Jamie Allen were unavailable for this game, although both may have been taken off early in last Saturday’s pre-season friendly with Swindon Town as a precaution. With Tom Bayliss linked with a move away, it could leave us with just two senior central midfielders for this game, having spent all pre-season playing with a three-man midfield. The centre of the park looks to be a keen area of intrigue when the team-sheet is announced, working on the assumption that Kelly and Allen are fit enough to start, I suspect the duo will be joined by Jordan Shipley in the midfield three.

Further forward, it seems all but certain that we will play a front three of Wesley Jobello, Jordy Hiwula and Amadou Bakayoko. All three provide plenty of energy and pace, it is just about making sure they get the right service to be able to run in behind Southend’s defence. With few options available in reserve at the moment, don’t be surprised to see 16 year-old winger Will Bapaga handed a spot on the bench for this game.

Last Time We Met

We last took on Southend United last Christmas with the memory of a long winless run still fresh in the memory. A low quality game was decided by a fine passing move that eventually saw Jordy Hiwula sent clean through on goal by Tom Bayliss just after half-time to cooly slot home. That passage of play proved to be a look ahead to the style of football Mark Robins was hoping to implement for the rest of the campaign, which appears to be the blueprint for the season ahead.

The Opposition

Manager – Kevin Bond

Best known for being Harry Redknapp’s assistant manager at various clubs, Kevin Bond was brought in towards the end of last season to steer Southend United to survival, which he did via a memorable final day victory over Sunderland, before being handed a two-year deal over the summer to take over on a full-time basis.

With just six games as Southend boss under his belt, and one previous managerial stint with Bournemouth around 13 years ago in the midst of the South Coast club’s financial meltdown, Bond is something of an unknown quantity heading into the new season. He seemed to energise the players and provide organisation in the games he oversaw last season, but the sample size is just too little on which to assess his and Southend’s chances over a full season.

Who To Look Out For?

Simon Cox heads up an impressive array of strikers for Southend, although the former Swindon and West Brom striker appears to be set to miss this game, along with fellow injury absentee Tom Hopper. Despite this, Kevin Bond can still call upon the talents of Stephen Humphrys – a powerful and mobile young striker – the willing running and physical presence of Theo Robinson and either summer signing Brandon Goodship – who scored 75 times for Weymouth over the past two seasons – or youth-team product Charlie Kelman – famous for scoring from the halfway line on his debut last season.

Possible Line-Up

In midfield, Sam Mantom’s passing and set-piece delivery can be a huge threat when he is on his best form. Youngster Dru Yearwood has been tipped for a bright future and is an energetic presence who can both win the ball back and carry it forward threateningly. Behind those two is likely to be the current Australia captain, Mark Milligan, although he comes off a difficult spell last season with Hibs. Additionally, academy youngster Isaac Hutchinson has had an impressive pre-season and could be the spark of creativity Southend are in need of.

In goal, Southend have two very strong options in the 28 year-old Mark Oxley and the promising 19 year-old Nathan Bishop. Both have the capability to shut things down when on top form, but it looks like Mark Oxley will be preferred for this game and the opening weeks of the season as the more experienced option.

Areas To Exploit

The two key areas in which this Southend squad appears to be lacking are in wide options – with Stephen McLaughlin their only fit winger for this game – and a lack of defensive pace. Kevin Bond looks set to counteract this by playing a narrow 4-3-3 system, or going with a 5-3-2, and sitting deep while knocking challenging passes into the channels for their forwards to chase and wear our defence down over the 90 minutes.

Like many of our home games last season, this looks set to be a challenge to remain patient against a determined and physical team content to sit back a little and nick something on the counter-attack. With the biggest asset about this Sky Blues side at the moment being the raw pace we have in forward areas, finding ways to make that a factor in the game looks set to be important, as does taking any opportunities that come our way.

All signs point towards a low-scoring contest.

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