Tuesday’s defeat to Aldershot compounded what is a disappointingly tempestuous run of form. Although successive wins over Gillingham and Crewe may have alleviated fears that a slump was about to derail any hopes of a top three finish, Southend are now quickly running out of games to reinforce their promotion credentials.
Arguably the most concerning factor is how different an unchanged side can look in little more than a fortnight. The side that lined up against Aldershot was very much the same side that outfought and out-thought Gillingham earlier this month, yet there was simply no parallel in the two performances.
The Gillingham performance was typified by the steely determination to grind out a win. Liam Dickinson toiled up front on his own with little support, whereas Bilel Mohsni worked tirelessly in order to ensure the win. Mark Phillips’ return to the side added the defensive prowess that had been missing in his absence, and the midfield looked markedly more assured with both Michael Timlin and Jean-Paul Kalala involved.
Compared to last night, however, and all reports suggest that the performance could not be more removed.
Paul Sturrock has commented that the display against Aldershot was gutless and that changes would ring through the side, but the problem is that the players on the sidelines are just as out of form as those on the field. Anthony Grant, for example, has looked a continually decreasing shadow of his former self this season. Although previously combative and imposing, Grant has failed to take a single game by the scruff of the neck this campaign and has rightfully sat most of the season out.
In defence, Pat Baldwin arrived in January to sure up an increasingly fragile defence, but his lack of match fitness only served to further that fragility. Chris Barker has shown signs of decline, so getting Pat Baldwin fit and into the side to partner Mark Phillips must surely be one of the Sturrock’s top priorities as the season enters its climax.
Perhaps most importantly, however, has been the frugal manner that the team’s attacking influences have taken into recent games.
Failing to muster a single shot on goal in a game is unacceptable, and will surely be a cause for concern. Ryan Hall’s exclusion from the side has made sense, he’s often been the target of opposition defences and his influence from the wings has been limited, but it’s now time for him to re-enter the fold. Bilel Mohsni, whilst effective, has not proven effective enough from wide positions to warrant inclusion ahead of the likes of Hall and Martin, so should either be dropped into defence, or dropped altogether.
Providing his injury isn’t too serious, it may also be time for Neil Harris to be welcomed back into the side. Although patently not the best in a targetman role, his movement and awareness were key in opening space and creating chances before Christmas, particularly for the likes of Hall and Timlin to run into. Providing Sturrock can trust his defence once again, moving to a 4-4-2 formation with Harris partnering Dickinson could well prove our best option.
Disappointingly, there appears to be a great need for scapegoat for Southend’s poor form. Sturrock’s tactics have been criticised, but they’ve been proven to work time and time again. Tara Brady’s departure has also been rather preposterously highlighted as the turning point, but the players must shoulder a significant proportion of the blame.
By Southend blogger Liam Stoker