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Southend United pass toughest test of season so far by beating Northampton Town
IN the week that the nation’s youngsters nervously opened their A level results, Southend United passed their toughest examination of the season so far on Saturday, beating Northampton Town 2-0 at Roots Hall.
The Cobblers were seen off by Bradford City in the League Two play-off final last term and are again expected to be up there pushing for promotion this time around.
But Blues, who had beaten below par Plymouth and Hartlepool teams in their opening two matches, were still able to come out on top.
Phil Brown’s side rode their luck at times and were certainly boosted by the Cobblers having to play more than an hour with 10 men after Chris Hackett was dismissed.
However, Southend had already been holding their own when the two teams were level in numbers and made it their best start to a season in 23 years by securing a third successive league victory.
And it is the work rate, effort and endeavour which has contributed to the pleasantly surprising start more than anything else.
A trio of summer signings – John White, Ben Coker and Will Atkinson – have contributed hugely to the impressive opening to the new campaign.
But three players who were at the club last season, without making much of a contribution – Daniel Bentley, Anthony Straker and Freddy Eastwood – are now also proving their importance to the team.
Bentley made just nine starts last term but has started this season in fine fashion.
The shot-stopper has become the first Blues keeper in 36 years to kick off a campaign with three successive clean sheets and against Northampton at the weekend he enhanced his growing reputation in the game with a fine early penalty save.
Bentley kept out Roy O’Donovan’s effort to give the Shrimpers a significant boost and they then went in front through Straker, who continued his new found form by bagging his first goal for the club.
Straker struggled during his first season at Roots Hall and was unable to hold down a regular starting slot.
He found it hard to perform on a consistent basis but, after catching the eye during pre-season, Straker has continued to impress in competitive encounters and looks a completely different player to the one that lined up last year.
Further forward, Eastwood made it two goals in two games after scoring just twice in his previous 24 games.
The striker remains a popular figure among the fans due to his successful first spell with the Shrimpers. But, since coming back to the club in March 2012, Eastwood had been nowhere near that level of performance.
Last season he made just five league starts and scored four goals before Sturrock was dismissed with just eight games to go and Eastwood seemed to be lacking in fitness, form and confidence.
However, Eastwood now looks leaner and keener and is producing his best performances since returning to Roots Hall.
On Saturday he looked threatening every time he got the ball and caused the Cobblers all kinds of problems with his quick feet and impressive vision.
Eastwood made the first goal before scoring the second to move him up to seventh in the club’s all time list of goalscorers.
He, just like the entire Shrimpers side, will be looking to build on their excellent start to the campaign.
But, as they attempt to do that, they will be nervously looking towards the treatment table.
With Julian Bennett already out with a long term injury, Blues saw Marc Laird limp off with a knee injury against Northampton while Mark Phillips missed out altogether with a groin problem.
Such problems will be felt hard by a Shrimpers squad which is restricted in size due to a transfer embargo and boss Brown will desperately be hoping the progress which has been made since the end of last season is not halted by a lack of options at his disposal.