The man who can’t be moved…

Cheltenham Town v Southend United – Sky Bet League Two – Jonny-Rocks Stadium – Tuesday 7pm – Preview

The next week ahead…

Tuesday, March 2 – Cheltenham Town (away)
Saturday, March 6 – Oldham Athletic (away)
Tuesday, Mach 9 – Tranmere Rovers (home)

It’s a pretty daunting task and I remain unconvinced that Southend United will come through this particular sequence of fixtures completely unscathed.

However, having covered Saturday’s goalless encounter with Salford City, for the first time this season I departed Roots Hall thinking to myself that the Blues could actually get out of this.

Make no mistake, it wasn’t a pretty performance. Blues created the better chances in the first half but never really looked the more fluent. Indeed, Salford pushed strongly after the interval and appeared the more likely to win it. A big save from substitute stopper, Harry Seaden, from Ian Henderson, coupled with some dogged defending prevented the Ammies from landing a killer blow.

But this was honest and gritty stuff from Southend. Perhaps even more so than we saw at Newport and Cambridge. Blues were unable to play on the front foot as much as they had at Forest Green but proving to the supporters that there is more than one way to skin a cat was a hugely encouraging sign.

Sure, there will be twists and turns before the conclusion of the campaign. But that performance was the minimum requirement. Southend has set a benchmark and I think most fans will accept that, whatever the outcome.

Obviously, it was frustrating to see Nile Ranger breakdown so quickly after entering the fray. Without what I would call proper competitive reserve team football under his belt, an immediate return to the professional game was always going to be a tall order following a two-year hiatus.

The likes of Wycombe and Brentford have recently installed ‘B-teams’ – which I believe are far more beneficial to wannabe first-teamers than tippy-tappy under 23 matches. But to set up a similar system at Southend asks further questions of the budget and that’s moving the conversation back into murky waters over the whole structure of the club.

Back to Nile. Sure, seven minutes doesn’t really tell us anything. But what I will say is that he tried to get himself involved, perhaps too much, too soon? He appeared genuinely gutted when the injury forced him off.

I’ve been sceptical over his return, but on this occasion wouldn’t question his determination. Unfortunately, his past might well have caught up with him in terms of costing him regular opportunities at a reasonable level. I hope that doesn’t prove to be the case and he can forge something of a career following so many false dawns.

The main positive is that Southend remains outside the relegation zone. Oh, and I might well have breached pressbox etiquette, whooping excitedly over Bolton’s late winner against Barrow – Sorry, these things happen.

But despite the drama, the fact remains that Southend United are towards the bottom of a very poor division. We have every right to ask how that has been allowed to happen, and indeed how, or indeed if, it will be rectified satisfactorily?

Anyway, on to Cheltenham Town. Defeat to improving Bradford City the only blemish in recent weeks as the Robins put together a decent argument suggesting they are automatic promotion contenders.

Goals – a handsome 40 to date – have been distributed throughout the team, although Alfie May has done the lions share. Saturday’s victory at Scunthorpe was achieved in a ruthless and reasonably comfortable fashion. Make no mistake, despite Southend’s recent revival, this remains a difficult ask for a team whose goal threat remains questionable.

Jeevesie’s prediction: Cheltenham Town 1-0 Southend United

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Brian Jeeves

Email: [email protected]