Monday night’s game against Gillingham, broadcast on Sky, demonstrated a hugely welcome return to form for the Blues and not before time. Putting to bed the demons of the last few lacklustre performances, a 2-1 win saw Paul Sturrock’s Southend return to the top of the table.
Much had been made of Sturrock’s comments following Friday’s thoroughly disappointing loss to Rotherham, in which he promised to drop players who were not playing to the outlined game plan. Four changes were made, with Peter Gilbert being replaced by Luke Prosser, Mark Phillips returning from injury to oust Pat Baldwin, and Ryan Hall and Elliot Benyon being replaced by Kane Ferdinand and David Martin.
The 4-5-1 formation that these changes allowed, with Kane Ferdinand being deployed so far forward at times in the first half he could’ve been mistaken for a false 9, created a far more stable base from which attacks could be launched. Ferdinand’s previous performances had been poor, but against Gillingham he showed a return to form. Having both Timlin and Kalala sat behind him gave Kane the impetus to press forward and latch onto Liam Dickinson’s knock-downs, and the confidence he showed at times was indicative of him having to not worry about defensive duties.
Perhaps more importantly, the balance of having two players in wide positions with both Martin and Mohsni included helped to not only protect the full-backs, but provide an all-important outlet for the central midfielders. Michael Timlin’s versatility has seen him deployed on the left in recent games, a position his talents are arguably wasted in, and his penchant for dropping back into the middle left our defence increasingly exposed at times. Martin and Mohsni’s energetic displays against Gillingham not only stretched an already uneasy Gillingham defence further, but provided both Prosser and Clohessy the kind of defensive cover that has been missing in recent weeks.
In attack, Liam Dickinson was much improved, undoubtedly helped by the confidence boost an early goal provided him. The subject of some ridiculous taunts from Southend supporters as of late,Dickinson gave a textbook performance of lone-forward play. Combative and intelligent play saw him outperform Garry Richards, and his hold-up play brought Kane Ferdinand into attack, launching a number of our most dangerous forays forward. With no real defensive midfielder included, Gillingham struggled to pick up on Ferdinand throughout the first-half, ultimately leading to the midfielder being influential in both goals, but this could not have happened without Dickinson’s play in the build-up.
Arguably most impressively, however, was the way in which Luke Prosser performed in a position that he’s not truly accustomed to. Peter Gilbert has been the subject of much contention, and Sturrock’s patience finally appears to be wearing thin. Although Prosser may not be the most cultured of players, his no-nonsense approach to defending led to the often tricky Jo Kuffour being starved of any distribution. This was probably Sturrock’s biggest tactical decision of the night, as Gilbert can be a little hesitant at times, a trait which could have allowed Kuffour in behind him. Prosser’s inclusion, along with Mark Phillips’ return from injury, saw Southend’s defensive prowess return following a particularly fragile spell.
By Southend blogger Liam Stoker