I’ve always felt Southend were a step ahead of us. Growing up, I recall our battle with them for the title in 1980/81; not personally you understand, but through the words of my Dad and Grandad as a child.
Then there was the 2005 play-off final, where Freddie Eastwood and Kevin Maher helped break our hearts. They always had a good team, perhaps slightly better than us in terms of quality and seemingly one step ahead in terms of progress.
We have had our moments, we did the double over them in Keith’s first play-off season, but on the whole, they’ve certainly been an adversary that has tested us during my time as a fan. Will tomorrow be any different?
Of course not. It’s fair to say they’re struggling at the foot of the table, but we’ve seen two matches played and with respect, they’ve faced Blackpool and Coventry who were both tipped for a top six place by many. Whilst two defeats sets fans on edge, it’s no real cause for concern. In fact, Southend were desperately unlucky to be dragged into the mire last season. They have some talented footballers but they were torn apart by injuries. Striker Tom Hopper, a summer target for us in 2018, and Ben Coker, an apparent summer target for us in 2019, both missed significant portions of the season.
That’s still the case at the moment. aside from the likes of Hopper, Jason Demetriou and Timothee Dieng being long term injured, they’ve already struggled with knocks and strains. Winger Stephen McLaughlin missed out in the cup in midweek but should be back this weekend. Brandon Goodship was a summer signing who sat out against Blackpool and both Mark Milligan and Harry Lennon are doubts for the tie with us.
They’ll likely line up against us in a flat 4-4-2 formation, with Kevin Bond preferring a 3-5-2 at Roots Hall. They’re likely to field the starting XI below, although I’ve marked the two main injury doubts on there as well.
The interesting call is going to be up top. They’ve got a few options, even though Tom Hopper is out; Midfielder Mantom played up front in the Coventry defeat and both Stephen Humphries and Theo Robinson are also options. However, after they beat Stevenage in midweek, there are strong calls for a pairing of Simon Cox and Charlie Kelman.
Kelman is an interesting one. He’s 17-years-old and has apparently fallen onto the radar of Spurs recently. He announced his arrival with a superb goal from inside his own half last season and he turned their cup tie with Stevenage on its head; they were losing 1-0 before he struck twice in quick succession.
He’s only made a sub appearance against Blackpool as well as the Stevenage game, but averages 3.16 shots per game with a 73% accuracy. Now Dru Yearwood has left the side, he’s the great hope from the youth academy. Simon Cox, his potential partner, is an experienced hand and the thought is his knowledge and Kelman’s unpredictability could be a good partnership. Cox has previously played for Reading, Forest and West Brom and he scored 17 times last season, with seven assists.
Another exciting talent that Southend have is Elvis Bwomono. He’s 20-years-old and is another player to have emerged from the academy. He’s an attacking full back who will look to get up and down their attacking right, our defensive left. He likes to get in a cross, 3.64 per game, and is very much in the Harry Toffolo mould.
Southend like to make a pass and much of that goes through Mark Milligan. The 34-year-old was someone I highlighted on the podcast as being a key man and they’ll be desperate for him to be fit. If he isn’t, former Ipswich man Luke Hyam is likely to come in, but they’ll be keen to ensure that doesn’t happen.
Speaking of his injury, Kevin Bond said: “He took a whack to the head on Tuesday and had a terrible headache for the entire second half.
“In fairness I don’t think anyone could’ve seen but I just told him to look after himself especially with all the games we have coming up so we’ll see how he is tomorrow.”
Milligan was an odd signing this summer; a good one but not coming from a conventional route. This is his first time in the English game, having been in the SPFL with Hibernian last season. Prior to that, he’s played in Oz, as well as Saudi Arabia, and he has 79 caps for his country including appearances at three World Cups.
I said he likes a pass; he’s made 187 so far this season, with Southend as a team making 400 or more every single game. Post Everton, only Carlisle, Swindon and Bury made more; considering both Swindon and Carlisle played against us with ten men you get an idea of the sort of approach Southend want to take.
They’ll come looking to play the ball around, side to side as well as forward, probing for an opening. The worry for them is defensive frailty; they had far more shots than Blackpool during their 3-1 defeat at the weekend but were susceptible at the back. If Milligan is fit then the gameplan will work well, but if they do need to turn to Luke Hyam they have a decent replacement. Milligan averages 56 passes per game, Hyan averaged 40 per game last season but delivered an 83% accuracy.
This is a game Danny will have targeted for a win; that’s not disrespectful to Southend but they’re the sort of side you want to beat at home if you’re going to be around the top half. Last season, they’re the sort of side we might have drawn with 1-1, although if they do come and look to make use of space it’ll play into our hands, certainly if Jack Payne, Joe Morrell and Tyler Walker are on form.
It should be a game that’s easy on the eye. I suspect we might want to test their defensive pairing, with Joe Shaughnessy and Harry Lennon surely set to be preferred to Liam Ridgewell, the former Villa man who had a horrible start to his Shrimpers career against Blackpool. I can’t see us going long all game though, but Tyler Walker will fancy his chances in the air a little more against these two than he did against the giants of Rotherham.
My prediction is a 2-1 win for us; I think they’ve got enough going forward to bag a goal, even if they don’t start Charlie Kelman. I suspect Jack Payne will be eager to have a good outing and I also feel Tyler Walker will soon be off the mark for us. I don’t usually do predictions (I had Huddersfield to beat us 4-0), but if I did I’d say Payne and Walker for us, Cox for them late on and a narrow 2-1 victory.
I’d certainly be happy if that was the case because this is far from the straightforward game it appears on paper.