At this point, let us not take anything away from Southend, to do so would be hugely disrespectful. They’ve been battered and bruised this season, yet they still get decent crowds and their players played with a carefree, gung-ho approach which I’m sure those fans appreciated. Their young guns ran, worked hard and in the second half, were by far the better side. For us to be bemoaning how bad we are is all well and good, but we shouldn’t be disrespecting a proud and valiant home side that more than made up the gap in quality with good old fashioned endeavour, desire and application. I sincerely hope that some of our players, young and old, took a good lesson from their opponents yesterday. The fact is Southend will likely be playing League Two football last year, but looking at some of their youth yesterday, they’ve got the basis of a decent side in the future.
They’ve also got a manager who has earned my respect over the last year or so. He did wonders with Macclesfield and considering this side that hasn’t won at home all season are unbeaten in four at Roots Hall, he’s doing the same for them. Fair play and I wish them all the best for the rest of the season.
That doesn’t mask the fact we should have been better. The second half, for 35 minutes, was worse than the first. we huffed and puffed, tried to switch things around but were utterly outbattled by the hosts. When they scored it was hardly a surprise, was it? A decent effort hits the bar and a proper poacher, Charlie Kelman, was on hand to stab home. If that ball drops in their six-yard area, as one did in the second period, would our forwards have been on hand to stab home? A Southend fan who commented on the blog last week said Hopper was a poacher from that distance, so let us hope his tough start is soon put behind him.
After their goal, I hoped to see us fight to get back into the game, but that didn’t happen. Instead, they looked like adding a second. After scoring their confidence went up and they knew they had the game in the palm of their hand. Then, MA changed it and brought on Jack Payne.
Jack Payne, the player told he was free to leave in the summer. The player the same Southend fan said wouldn’t make an impression for us. The forgotten man. However, he’s a player with experience, someone who has been around and performed at a higher level. Yup, Jack Payne came on against his old club and changed the game, for a bit. Suddenly, we had a conduit and a creator and although the rest of the side looked laboured and heavy-footed, he wanted to impress. If training hard got him back in the squad, his performance might have just ensured he stays there on Friday.
I am going to move straight to our goal because frankly, what else in the turgid second-half display would I want to focus on. We got a corner (woop) and actually scored from it. 1-1, we were back in the game. Harry Anderson, now the leading scorer in the squad, would have been delighted to make a mark. He’s a player I hope to see make a big impression on the side in the coming weeks and he got us back in the game.
Now, you’d expect at 1-1 for the youngsters in the home side to wilt, for the side who expected to do well to press on and add another. Our club Twitter account suggested the seven minutes of injury time might bring us a goal and briefly (really briefly) I felt the same. Instead, we conceded late on, just like we have so many times this season.
Why is that? A lack of character? A lack of confidence in our ability to defend a point or a lead? I don’t know, but I’ll tell you this; a point isn’t all we can’t defend. Set pieces are like kryptonite to us. Other teams know it as well, how many of them are whipping corners into the six-yard area, right under Josh Vickers? Bolton did it, Portsmouth did it, everyone is doing it. If we whip one into the six-yard area, a defender at the front post deals with it, no bother. If we defend the same set-piece, we go to pot. It was an awful goal to concede, with Vickers at fault in my eyes. There’s no point in singling him out though is there, he was on a side of players all of whom had made mistakes and played badly, why would he be any different.
That’s it, that is all I have to say on the game. It was bad, really bad. It was the worst performance of the season, much worse than Portsmouth at home and even worse than Gillingham away. It lacked character and it lacked belief.
However, I want to end on a positive note. Firstly, Friday can surely not get any worse (unless you remember the last time Rotherham came to Sincil Bank for a league night match…). Secondly, there’s still a good gap between us and the bottom three. We can put all this talk in the media (and a bit on here) about looking up the table to bed. We know where we are, in transition. We must not write off players who have played six, three or one games for us. As fans, it is our duty to support the team, not to start calling players rubbish because they’ve taken time to settle. We’re not six points adrift right now and the aim, as it always has been, is to survive. Some performances have hinted at better, others have hinted at far worse. But if you think we’re showing relegation form, contrast that with the promotion form we showed before the Sunderland loss. If you think these last two games are worrying, look at how positive beating Peterborough and Ipswich was.
No one game, or even short run, is going to tell you much about this team. The big story will be after 44 matches, that is how we will be defined. I’ve always said the ‘form guide’ is rubbish, although I do refer to it when we are flying in it to contrast those who like to roll it out when we’re not. This was a bad game, at the end of a bad week. We’ve yet to see the full impact of the transfer window, good or bad, because only time can reveal that. Going on social media and saying things like ‘this is Appleton’s team now and it isn’t good enough’, is ridiculous when one signing has yet to be revealed and another hasn’t even played.
All I’ll say is the improvement in the team in late November came about through work on the training ground and I feel we always had to take a step backwards to move forward, especially with such a high turnover of players. Did I expect us to have the second-highest turnover of players this transfer window? No. Now it has happened, do I think we’ll transition smoothly and efficiently? No.
Do I think it is the best thing for long-term planning at the club? Yes. It remains to be seen if the players are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ signings, but to judge them on one or two games is madness.
Even if they were utterly abject yesterday.
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