Unbeaten in Nine
It is good to be going to games again in the knowledge that we are a side who are very difficult to beat and more importantly very difficult to score against. This was another difficult game against another team who were just above us in the league, in fact just three points above us with a further game in hand of us.
There were no real surprises in the Team selection other than a surprise that Sinclair was missing through injury which meant a return at last for Lee Mansell. Montano was selected ahead of Byron Moore for the left wing spot and Leadbitter returned in place of James Clarke with the greater attacking threat and of course the extra pace. Gaffney and Luke James would be given another chance to get a partnership going.
The game would prove to be another exciting affair and with a little more luck and better finishing we could have been four up by half time as we took a first minute lead and then similar to last week scored another good goal to go 2-0 ahead. Southend did have some individual threats out wide and in the middle without really looking like scoring and the same could be said of the second half where although Southend had a great deal of possession and the better of the refereeing decisions it was us who actually created the better goalscoring chances . Referee Kettle seemed to be trying his hardest to give Southend a goal with some typically mystifying decisions but thankfully our defence and goalkeeper Lumley held firm again.
Lumley 8.5 Another first class performance from our wonderful young keeper. How important it is to sign him in the Summer if; of course; he wants to come to us and also if QPR are prepared to release him. Didn’t have a great deal in the way of dangerous shots but inspires confidence in the way he controls his area and one great save from a free kick.
Leadbitter 7 Allowed their winger a little bit too much space for my liking at times but the majority of time his pace got him and us out of trouble and got forward well particularly in the first half.
Lockyer 8.5 Very close to being Man of the Match for me as he constantly got to the ball first against a strong Southend team. Lost count of the number of times he headed dangerous crosses away and dealt with balls into the box. Alongside Sweeney Tom has turned his season around and we really look a formidable side to break down. Another clean sheet is testament to the improvement made as we have come through a period of games against the best this division can offer and they have all created relatively few chances against us.
Sweeney 8 The Rock! What a difference he has made and today was another great performance against strong,tough opponents with pedigree. When he heads the ball it goes a long way and this makes a big difference because whereas in the first half of the season a lot of our defensive clearances were landing dangerously on the edge of our box they are now going nearer the half way line.
Brown 7 Similar to Leadbitter I felt Lee gave his winger too much room at times but overall defended strongly without being so adventurous as previous. Got in some good tackles and kept his cool in various situations. Our defensive strength was there for all to see with Harris, Clarke Salter, Burns and James Clarke all on the bench today. I do wish Lee would do a relatively simple task like throwing the ball in accurately as we rarely retain possession but maybe I am being picky especially with only four goals conceded in the last nine games against mainly the divisions best.
Bodin 7.5 What a start he gave us with another classic display of twists ,turns and then a rocket of power and precision to send the ball nestling in the corner of the net from just outside the box. Plenty of evidence after that as well of his silky skills and why he is such a dangerous player when the ball is at his feet. For those who want to see him up top I think that would take away his main quality which is when moving forward attacking the defence who are generally retreating when he has the ball and instead he would be tightly marked and receiving the ball with his back to goal. I also like that he now takes some of the corners and this varied delivery makes us more dangerous as Chris Lines corners are a bit predictable.
Lines 7.5 Worked his socks off again and drove forward when he could although it was a more subdued display today without the energetic Sinclair and the ever improving Ollie Clarke. Should have done much better with a great chance in the second half when he received the short corner from Bodin but with time and space sent the ball over the bar. He was always probing and available to receive the ball.
Mansell 7 Considering he has hardly played it was a tremendous performance from him to last the full game and make his presence felt with some stinging challenges . He visibly tired in the second half and this probably causded his booking when he fouled on the edge of our box. In truth we are a little short of numbers at the moment in the midfield area and it will be tough for Manse to play again on Tuesday night but there would appear to be few options if Sinclair is still injured.
Montano 7 Ran himself into the ground to perform his defensive duties and struggled a bit after a heavy challenge on him about the half hour mark but still managed to get a few challenges in and also to turn up in good goalscoring positions on three occasions as well as supplying an accurate cross that should have been attacked better. One of his chances should definitely have been scored when he put the ball wide from the six yard box but if he keeps getting in those positions he will surely get his reward soon.
Gaffney 9 MOM A great shot for his first goal in a while gave him the confidence to have a go whenever he got a chance and was very unlucky not to end up with a hat trick, This was more like the Gaffney when he was on loan as Southend defenders struggled to deal with his mobility and power and ability to run at players. The keeper did very well to tip his second half shot over the bar.
James 7 Did well to set up Billy for the opening goal and ran himself into the ground for the cause. Can he become a regular goalscorer I am not sure as although I thought he would probably have finished off any of Montanos three chances in truth he just does not get into those goalscoring positions but there is definitely something there and he was terribly unlucky not to open his account in the second half with a shot that thudded against the post. He won a number of balls in the air against much taller opposing figures and maybe, hopefully it will be a case that one goal will suddenly ignite him. For his running and work for the team he definitely deserves his place in the team.
Moore 6.5 Some tricky footwork and some hard work in a short appearance. He is now showing that he does have something about him and IMO is worth retaining for next season as a squad player.
James Clarke 6.5 Added a bit of strength to the defence when replacing a tiring Leadbitter but I do worry when he challenges opponents in the box and seems to have his hands all over his opponent. One game he is going to concede a penalty doing this.
Clarke Salter NOLE Good to see him back.
Referee 4 Too many dodgy decisions and far too lenient. Some of the free kicks and corners he gave against us were hard to believe but overall was probably a just OK game from Mr Kettle whose reputation is not one of which he can be proud and probably deserved the “You don’t know what you are doing” chant on several occasions.
Southend 7 Had a lot of possession particularly second half and played some good football at times without really looking like causing us many problems but on clear chances could easily have found themselves 4-0 down at the interval and even in a second half which they controlled a lot of possession we probably still looked more likely to score and had the better clear cut chances.
DC Got everything right again as we were well worth the win and even with Harrison, Partington and Sinclair injured and Ollie Clarke suspended he came up with the tactics and selection to beat another rival in the chase for the Play Offs. I do like the tactic of replacing Montano with Brown in the second half and for Tuesday I think I would start with Brown and then replace him with Montano in the second half.
We now go in to a four match run which on paper is far easier than recent games BUT we must beware of the dangers that these type of games can bring with Bury, Chesterfield, Coventry and Shrewsbury all fighting for their lives to stay up. Personally I think we have the games the right way around and much will depend on the result Tuesday as a positive result at an improved Bury on a four match unbeaten run will hold us in good stead for next Saturdays home game with Chesterfield. It is; of course, another long journey for a Tuesday night but a repeat of our performances against Bolton and Oxford will hopefully see us continue our unbeaten run which has now seen us pick up 15 points from the last 27 points on offer.
I would say that at the moment our hopes of a play off spot are probably unrealistic given the games in hand position of some teams but I would not try to predict our next four results but wait and see what our position is at the end of that four game run. We will then be down to the final five games and our position will be a lot clearer. UTG