Southend United v Mansfield Town – Sky Bet League Two – Roots Hall Stadium – Saturday 3pm – Preview
It doesn’t matter how big it is, it’s what you do with it!
Of course, I’m using this age-old metaphor in footballing terms (why, what were you thinking?). I’ve heard it all over the years, whether that be sitting in the stands or even on the odd occasion, the press box. It’s time to realise and accept that Southend United are not the ‘big club’ sections of the Roots Hall crowd would like to think they are.
Now I know that might be a difficult pill to swallow for some. I mean, Blues – until lockdown and despite turning out some nauseating football – continued to attract reasonable attendances. But let’s be perfectly honest, that doesn’t constitute a big club, does it.
Southend has spent just seven of their 115-year history competing above the third tier – hardly ‘Manchester United’ is it? The clubs standing with the community is questionable. The town is the seventh most densely populated area in the United Kingdom outside of the London Boroughs, with more than 183,000 people residing in the district. Average crowds of around 6,000 would suggest that the vast majority either don’t know about the football club or worse, don’t care. Blues are what they are, and are where they are for a reason – that is the foundation that must be identified and built on.
Be honest. Have a look at the League Two table. Have a look at League One as well. How many of those clubs do you think are smaller than Southend United? Ten? Twenty? Thirty? Whatever, they are all better placed in the league, mostly without eternal politics and continued financial concerns fracturing the relationship with, and indeed within, their fanbase.
One of those so-called smaller clubs, Cambridge United, came to town on Tuesday evening. They took the points to move top of the league – They must be doing something right?
But let’s turn the conversation to football. It’s not a case of back to the drawing board for Mark Molesley – that would suggest there are other options open to the Blues boss – at the moment there aren’t. What you see is very much what you get with this Southend squad. Honest endeavour in spades – Quality, still questionable.
It would be harsh to suggest that the Blues boss got it wrong on Tuesday night. He went with a slightly different formation to that at Grimsby. Five across the middle – including the experienced Alan McCormack, Tiimothee Dieng and Jason Demetriou – offering the Blues an opportunity to stifle Cambridge’s creativity while utilising Elvis Bwomono and Sam Hart as wingbacks, pressing the visitors deeper than they’d like, particularly during the opening 45 minutes when the blustery conditions favoured the home side.
But Southend were both wasteful and without purpose in attack. They were unable to build on Simeon Akinola headed opener and subsequently got picked off. Cambridge displayed superior game management and another opportunity to scramble off the bottom of the league had gone up in smoke.
Defensively, Southend has notably improved, although defeats to Leyton Orient and Cambridge have highlighted the difference between those at the top and those at the bottom. The main issue now is in front of goal – 15 in 23 league games is a miserly tally – here lies the problem.
For me, Blues do not possess an out and out goalscorer. James Olayinka, Akinola, Asley Nathaniel-George, Reeco Hacket-Fairchild and Emile Acquah are attack-minded, but none of them is going to get you 15, let alone 20-25 goals a season.
It remains to be seen whether Molesley will be able to bolster the attack. It’s painfully obvious that he’s short in that department and once again if provided with the funds to make a signing, there is no time or room for error. The situation is desperate.
Anyway, next up, Mansfield Town – another club some fans maintain are minnows in comparison. Blues earned a creditable draw at the One Call Stadium back in mid-December, but four wins on the bounce, including a four-goal thrashing of Port Vale and a notable success over promotion hopefuls Salford City, suggest ‘The Stags’ – under the guidance of Nigel Clough – have turned the corner and are now eying up the top seven as opposed to worrying about the bottom two.
It will be another tough one for Southend, who now require a player capable of crystallizing a battle-hardened group with a bit of flair and a few goals. Oh, what we’d give for another Stan Collymore, Freddie Eastwood or for the older generation, Billy Best, right now!
I mentioned at the start of what is a pivotal month that Blues needed to win at least four of their next six matches to give themselves a fighting chance of remaining in the Football League. So far, just one victory from three has been achieved. Of course, the wheels of football rotate pretty quickly. By the time you read my thoughts, Southend might well have recruited the man capable of firing them away from the dropzone. But in the meantime, I fear its more of the same with too much pressure being placed on a group lacking the required skillset for the massive job in hand.
Jeevesie’s prediction: Southend United 1-1 Mansfield Town