Successive victories have now been juxtaposed by successive defeats, and Southend now find themselves back to square one in the search for an increasingly elusive run of form. A cause has proven to be difficult to pin down, but Bilel Mohsni’s inclusion out wide must now be questioned.
The clamour for Bilel Mohsni to pick up the mantle and lead this side to promotion is extraordinary. His infectious enthusiasm for the game and substantial time he dedicates to the fans have made him the people’s champion, but Sturrock’s persistence with him in an unfamiliar position may just cost him the title of League Two’s champion.
This desperation for him to succeed has ultimately led to him being forced into the side in an unfamiliar position, which he is unfortunately incapable of carrying out.
On occasion, Mohsni is capable of exceptional technique and vision. His deftly executed chip-pass to David Martin during the build-up to Southend’s second against Gillingham was sublime, as was his swerving attempt at goal 10 minutes prior. Unfortunately for both Mohsni and Southend, the glimpses of magic have become all too rare as of late, and they’ve become sprinkled with a dearth of positional sense and discipline that has cost the side.
During the 17-game unbeaten run earlier in the season, a solid defensive record was enforced by a settled and balanced midfield. Ryan Hall’s ability to operate on either flank, coupled with Michael Timlin’s metronomic passing and Kane Ferdinand’s industrious bursts forward, produced a midfield that operated as a unit.
The early-season midfield had something for everyone. For every piece of fanciful guile from Ryan Hall, there was a bone-crunching dispossession of an opposition player courtesy of Jean-Paul Kalala. Somewhere along the line, possibly owing to a loss of confidence or familiarity courtesy of forced changes, this midfield balance has been lost, and it’s been to the detriment of a defence that has come to look fragile, and a forward line that has come to look inexplicably blunt.
Additions to the squad and a rampant loss of form have forced Sturrock’s hand in terms of changes, but it’s now time for the manager to settle on a selection and leave it be. Too much ground has been lost while previously key players search for missing form, and on current results, Southend’s promotion credentials are fading fast.
Southend’s two most encouraging results of late, the back-to-back wins against Gillingham and Crewe, both came whilst using the tried-and-tested 4-5-1 formation and, whilst it may not be the most aesthetically pleasing styles of football, it has been proven to produce results. A midfield five including both David Martin and Ryan Hall on opposing flanks, with two defensive midfielders to protect the back four, makes immediate sense given their prevalent creative abilities.
Discussion is, however, futile. It is ultimately up to the players and manager to remedy what has been labelled a crisis in some quarters, or face ending the season wondering what might’ve happened.
By Southend United blogger Liam Stoker