Southend United v Woking – Vanarama National League – Roots Hall Stadium – Saturday (3pm) – Preview
I think it is fair to say, there was never going to be a honeymoon period for Kevin Maher, Darren Currie and Mark Bentley.
Admittedly, it was made clear that the trio had time to turn the clubs’ fortunes around. However, taking into account the magnitude of this ever-escalating issue that is Southend United, a sign, of sorts, needed to be recognised, calming the fans fears of yet another false dawn.
A glance would suggest little change. Three defeats from their opening four matches at the helm – including an Emirates FA Cup exit at Chesterfield certainly wouldn’t have been part of the remit. Nevertheless, dissecting the four matches into more palatable bite-size pieces offers a reasonable amount of evidence that Maher is getting to grips with the task at hand.
Southend has performed in fits, starts and all too infrequently during this spell. Hey did what they had to do against a very poor Dover Athletic side, beating what was put in front of them a little more comfortably than I, for one, thought possible.
The squads’ limitations remain a concern. Taking into account what the Head coach has inherited, it came as no surprise that Dagenham, Boreham Wood and Chesterfield were too strong for us. However, taking the Daggers game out of the equation – after all, their appointment had only been confirmed less than 48 hours before kick-off – Southend showed reasonable resilience in the other two fixtures, although quality and confidence remained at a premium.
A notable success has been the vast improvement in striker Rhys Murphy. The former Yeovil Town frontman has taken his tally to seven for the season, displaying the hunger which had gone missing ahead of the managerial change.
Goalscorers are a rare commodity that every club, every manager wants to lay their hands on. Twenty-plus league goals from Murphy would fire Southend up the league and away from danger. The supply line desperately needs improving, but that well-worked goal at Chesterfield involving Sam Dalby suggested the duo are ready to dig a little deeper than we were seeing under the previous regime.
The addition of Sheffield United duo, Zak Brunt and Kacper Lopata, has had the biggest impact. Brunt’s readmission to Saturday’s squad after his extremely harsh dismissal at the Technique Stadium had been correctly overturned, was warmly welcomed by Blues fans, desperate for a crumb of hope and comfort. Both players have been provided with an opportunity to play senior first-team football and both have snatched it with both hands. Sure, they are still a part of the process and have needed to learn, quite literally, on the job. Blues still require several like-minded footballers in the dressing room as soon as possible, but their arrival demonstrates that we are now being a little more selective in our approach to potential recruits, as opposed to coming across like a pub side short on numbers and pulling in anyone with a pair of boots. Another plus, I’d say!
During the week, Maher and his staff ran the rule over the clubs fringe players during hastily arranged friendly matches with Welling United and Great Wakering Rovers. I’m not sure the games provided him with anything he didn’t already know.
Welling edged out a Southend side featuring several players with first-team experience, while a Blues team labelled ‘under 23s’ thrashed a Rovers side 6-0 – the villagers themselves fielding a much-changed line-up, barely resembling the side that had played at Heybridge Swifts in an Isthmian League North fixture three days previous.
Nevertheless, to satisfactorily separate the wheat from the chaff, Maher needs to see his charges in match action. No doubt, one or two will have caught the eye. The task of evolving these boys into competent first-team potential, beneficial first and foremost to Southend United, is the challenge at a time when unearthing a rough diamond or two has never been more important to the club.
But the truth is that at the moment, Southend United can’t afford to look too far forward. Any evidence of progress is great to see – better football – a clearer structure – a plan. Nevertheless, Maher isn’t stupid. The Blues continue to be judged by the wider audience on results. Several scrappy, perhaps lucky, one-nil wins would be welcomed with open arms over speculation of potential which is ultimately never fulfilled.
We are seeing gradual evidence of grit and determination but none of these commodities is of any use without consistently putting points on the board. As I mentioned, there is no honeymoon period – previous haphazard appointments oversaw and ensured that!
Next up for the Blues is a visit from Woking. The Cards have hit the wall of late following a decent start to the season, winning just one of their last five National League outings.
In Tahvon Campbell, Woking possesses a potent goal threat. Following a somewhat stop-start career, the 24-year-old, who plays primarily as a winger, has found his feet at the Kingfield Stadium club, netting nine times in thirteen appearances following his move from Cheltenham Town.
Southend can’t afford to be choosy. This is a fixture we must target for three points. Woking has found goals reasonably easy to come by, but having also conceded twenty, their Achilles heel is evident.
I still maintain that Maher needs to recruit at least four fresh faces, largely in a defensive capacity, simply to compete competently in this league. In the meantime, it is up to individuals amongst this group to step up, perhaps out of their comfort zone, to provide a bit more backbone to what is still a very fragile squad.
Jeevesie’s prediction: Southend United 1-1 Woking