Cheltenham Town deserved present from Southend United's Anthony Straker

Echo: Cheltenham Town celebrate Matt Richards' late penalty Cheltenham Town celebrate Matt Richards' late penalty

TO HELP promote the club’s half season card offer, Southend United’s Anthony Straker dressed as Father Christmas in the build up to Saturday’s game against Cheltenham Town.

So it was therefore somewhat fitting that the Shrimpers winger generously gifted the Robins a way back in to the game at Roots Hall on Saturday by giving away a stoppage time penalty.

Straker clearly handled Jermaine McGlashan’s far postheader with just seconds of the match remaining.

And that error enabled Matt Richards to score from the spot to ensure the game ended in a 1-1 draw after Kevan Hurst had earlier fired Southend in front.

In truth, Blues did simply not deserve to come out on top at the weekend as they were well below their best and, aside from Hurst’s goal, very rarely threatened in the final third.

Visiting goalkeeper Scott Brown had very little to do between the sticks, whereas his opposite number Daniel Bentley pulled off two impressive saves in the opening exchanges and also had to stay alert in the second half.

Bentley’s fine form, together with good organisation and work-rate kept Blues in contention against a Cheltenham team who enjoyed spells of pressure and possession.

And with Hurst continuing his fine scoring form the Shrimpers put themselves in to a winning position.

The winger has now netted in his last three games, has scored four goals in his last five outings and leads Blues’ scoring charts with six goals to his name already this term which equals his tally from the whole of the previous campaign.

His form has therefore been a huge high point for Southend so far but there have been many of them for Phil Brown’s side this season and the disappointing conclusion to the clash with Cheltenham does not change that.

Blues remain third in the table and avoided defeat throughout the whole of November thanks to some impressive and, on other occasions, downright gritty displays.

But, in the past two seasons, the Shrimpers have worked their way in to the push for promotion during the first half of the season, only to fall away when it really mattered.

Twelve months ago, Blues went 14 games unbeaten at a similar stage of the campaign before eventually failing to even make the play-offs.

Lessons now need to be learnt from the mistakes made last time around as a small squad of players eventually ran out of steam and had to settle for a mid-table finish.

A lack of energy was perhaps also shown for the first time this term by the Shrimpers against Cheltenham on Saturday as they took to the field for the third time in the space of just seven days.

The previous two games had also seen Blues reduced to 10 men which must have added to their work-load and, with a flurry of festive fixtures just around the corner, the small Southend squad will start to be stretched even more.

Fatigue levels will also start to rise as manager Phil Brown is currently unable to spread the work-load and is instead forced to rely on the same group of players.

It is therefore simply imperative that the Blues boss is able to bring in more players during the next couple of months and that the club work their way out of the transfer embargo they are currently under.

If that can be achieved and Brown can continue to recruit wisely then the Shrimpers show they already have the necessary ingredients to be up towards the top of the League Two table.

But if the restrictions cannot be lifted then the demands may be too great for the current squad and the chances of Blues again falling away during the second half of the season, for the third year in succession, would greatly increase

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