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Play-off pressure is increasing all the time for Southend United
GOALS of contrasting quality ensured Southend United’s crunch clash with play-off rivals Rotherham United ended in a 1-1 draw at Roots Hall on Saturday.
Kevan Hurst blasted Blues in front with a contender for goal of the season as his scorching 30-yard effort flew into the roof of the South Stand net.
But the scrappy nature of the visitors’ late equaliser only added to Southend’s frustration as they fell further behind the Millers in the final play-off position.
The Yorkshire side are now six points ahead of Paul Sturrock’s, who could find themselves seven points adrift of the top seven if the results do not go their way on Tuesday night.
That said, Blues do still have a game in hand on most of the teams above them in the table.
However, right now it seems unlikely they will be able to string together the consistent run of good results they need to work their way back in to contention.
For after Saturday’s stalemate against the Millers, Southend have triumphed in just one of their last six outings and one of their last five in the league.
They have also taken just 10 points from the last 30 on offer and will need to drastically improve on that ratio if they are to extend their season.
On average during the past 10 seasons, 70 points have been needed to make the play-offs, which means Blues will need to take at least 19 points from their remaining 11 matches this season.
That equates to Southend having to win more than half of the games they still have left to play, and their current injury problems will not help their quest for points.
Sturrock is still missing five members of what would be considered to be his strongest starting line-up and Michael Timlin, in particular, remains a huge loss in the midfield.
His speaking and organisational skills have certainly been missed and that is shown by the fact that Blues have triumphed in just one of the 12 matches he has been unavailable for this season.
Without Gavin Tomlin, Southend have won five in 14, Mark Phillips seven in 19, Chris Barker two in 10 and Marc Laird four in 10, making Timlin the biggest miss.
With that in mind, it would therefore make sense to try and bring Tamika Mkandawire back to the club, even if it is just for a month.
The 29-year-old would bring quality, experience and an organisational presence back to the centre of the park and it was certainly not a coincidence that Blues’ best form of the season came during the midfielder’s initial two-month long loan spell from Millwall.
He has been sorely missed since returning to the Lions, but much will depend on whether Southend’s fragile financial position can allow another player to be brought in.
Somehow or other, Blues also need to get back to having a settled line up if they are to not fall just short of the play-offs this season.
And something also has to be done about their extraordinary lack of goals in the first half of their matches.
Following Saturday’s goalless first period, Blues have now gone 12 matches without scoring before half-time and their last goal in the first 45 minutes minutes of a league game was at Dagenham & Redbridge on Boxing Day.
Adding to that and, even more unbelievably, they have now also not scored in the first half of a home league game, since Britt Assombalonga scored against Dagenham in September.
That is remarkable for a team still in with a shout of promotion, but Blues cannot afford to just be a threat for just 45 minutes of a match.
The record has to be ended and soon because, after Saturday’s game at Port Vale, Southend face home games against three of the bottom five teams — AFC Wimbledon, Torquay United and Plymouth Argyle — in the space of just seven days.
Nine points is now a must from those matches for Blues and that may well be the period of the season which ultimately decides whether or not this campaign will be remembered for more than just reaching Wembley.