Preview: Southend United

Tuesday night’s victory over Portsmouth was a momentous occasion. Having come close to beating several of the better teams at this level this season without quite pulling it off, doing so sets us up in a strong position for the remainder of the campaign – having still to play the rest of the top six at St Andrew’s.

An automatic promotion spot is within touching distance, with first place attainable if we win our next three games. Heading into a trip this weekend to a beleaguered Southend United side, it feels as if everything is falling into place at the right time of the season. The opportunity is right in front of us, it is now about holding our nerve and serizing it.

Expected Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

Having made so few changes recently despite the signs of tiredness creeping into our performances, Mark Robins look to use this game to freshen things up a little bit. While we don’t want to lose focus levels drop at a time we want to continue to build momentum, it is not necessarily weakening ourselves to allow one or two players a much-needed rest here.

Matt Godden’s goal on Tuesday night came not only at an important juncture of the game but also of his Coventry City career. Having failed to score since those back-to-back hat-tricks, Godden’s place in the side was in doubt but that goal should put some credit back in the bank for him. I would expect Godden to return to the starting line-up here not only because of the goal but to allow Amadou Bakayoko a rest after two big efforts in recent games.

Two other players who have given their everything recently are Jamie Allen and Callum O’Hare. The duo’s mobility, creativity and tenaciousness have provided something different to the ball-retaining qualities that Jordan Shipley and Zain Westbrooke provided in those advanced midfield roles. While Mark Robins may not want to lose that against a Southend United side likely to dig-in defensively, having fresher players in the attacking positions could be useful in pressing the opposition.

The other player who may be considered for a game off here is Sam McCallum, who has looked recently as if the amount of football he’s played at a young age is starting to catch up to him. There are two alternatives for McCallum, the attack-minded Ryan Giles or the more natural defender that is Brandon Mason. Taking into account that we are likely to have long spells of possession here, Giles’ pace from left wing-back would help stretch the opposition.

Last Time We Met

It was back on the opening day of the season when these two teams last met. Southend United were unlikely to have anticipated the disastrous campaign that lay ahead of them, while we were more concerned about what playing at St Andrew’s meant than any ambitions of achieving promotion.

While the Sky Blues were largely on top, there were few particularly notable chances before Zain Westbrooke arrowed in an effort from just outside the penalty area after half-time to put us in front. Aside from a couple of troublesome set-pieces, the result was never in doubt from that point onwards.

The Opposition

Manager – Sol Campbell

No-one can accuse of Sol Campbell of attempting to build his managerial career the easy way. Having saved a Macclesfield Town side last season that not only looked doomed but consistently paid players’ wages late, Campbell has taken over a Southend United side this season that not only looks doomed but has had similar issues in paying players on time.

Campbell looks to have bitten off a little more than he can chew this around, struggling to make an initial impact and unable to recruit players in January due to a transfer embargo. With seven players departing last month and a slew of injuries to the remaining senior players, Campbell has produced some committed performances from his side recently but there has been a desperate lack of quality.

Who To Look Out For?

Possible Line-Up

With so few senior players available right now, this will be a short section.

Southend’s primary threat in this game is likely to come from set-pieces, where midfielder Sam Mantom has proven to be a proficient taker. With Sol Campbell having worked on some interesting set-piece routines, staying concentrated and organised defending dead-ball situations is going to be important.

Of the youngsters who have been handed opportunities this season, striker Charlie Kelman and attacking midfielder Isaac Hutchinson have shown the most promise. Kelman is a classic fox-in-the-box style of striker who we’ll have to keep a close eye on. Hutchinson, meanwhile, is a skinny ball-carrier who, along with winger Stephen McLaughlin, could cause us problems on the counter-attack.

Where This Game Will Be Won Or Lost

With Sol Campbell having prioritised defensive organisation in his time in charge of Southend, committing few players in attack, this game is going to be about how we can play through a set defence. We are likely to have long spells of possession here, what is going to be important though is the movement and quick thinking of our attacking players in order to move Southend’s defence around to prevent them being able to dig in.

If we don’t get an early goal, we need to stay patient and continue to move the ball around into dangerous areas. Prior to Tuesday’s 4-0 defeat against Peterborough United, Southend had looked a more organised and effective team unit under Sol Campbell. Unbeaten in four at home, Southend are playing for pride and have shown, if given something to hold onto, they can dig-in and make games tougher than opponents may be expecting.

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