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Below par Southend United see unbeaten run ended at Mansfield Town
THE LEAGUE Two form guide was turned on its head as a below par Southend United sunk to a disappointing 2-1 defeat at Mansfield Town.
Promotion pushing Blues went in to the game without a league defeat in 2014 whereas as struggling Mansfield had not won at home since September.
But, in difficult windy conditions, the Shrimpers’ unbeaten run of eight league games was deservedly blown apart by their hosts.
Mansfield carried far more of a threat in the final third with the physical prowess of Matt Rhead and the skills of Sam Clucas ultimately proving the difference between the two teams.
However, as bad as Blues were they could still have taken something from game had the breaks gone their way.
Barry Corr and Conor Clifford were both denied by the woodwork before Clifford was also shown what seemed to be quite a soft red card.
Mansfield’s second goal also came from a debatable corner which was awarded after the ball bounced fortuitously back off the corner flag and that pretty much summed up Southend’s day.
In a 90 minutes that was incredibly similar to the Shrimpers shock defeat at Torquay United in December, Phil Brown’s side were unusually below par.
Even their most consistent performers, such as Daniel Bentley, John White and Kevan Hurst struggled to perform and Blues never seemed likely to take something from the game.
The team was unusually shaky at the back and certainly seemed to be missing the in-form Luke Prosser who was again absent with a fractured cheekbone.
The midfield was also not as dominant as normal and the strikers struggled to get in to the game.
But sides at League Two level are always likely to produce a performance like this as they find it more difficult to consistently find their best form.
The teams with the fewest poor displays will obviously triumph come the end of the season and, so far, Southend have been able to perform on a consistent basis.
One defeat does not therefore need to start the alarm bells ringing but the Shrimpers have not been at their best since losing to Hull City in the FA Cup.
Following that defeat to the Tigers, Blues have taken two points from a possible nine but do still remain in quite a strong position to secure a place in the play-offs.
For the seventh placed team are eight points clear of the team immediately below them in the standings, Newport County.
The Welshmen do still have three games in hand on the Shrimpers but Phil Brown’s side have also played one match less than the top three teams in the automatic promotion places.
Victory in their outstanding game would also see Blues just one point behind third placed Oxford United and would breathe life back in to their charge for promotion.
But for that to happen Southend must bounce back from Saturday’s disappointment to begin impressing again on a more consistent basis.
And boss Brown must also decide whether to line up with a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3 formation.
Their best results have come with a three man midfield this term but that system has often seem them struggling to score a high number of goals.
That – along with the arrival of Lee Barnard – could well have been behind the recent decision to switch to a two man attack.
However, that has not made the Shrimpers more a threat when going forward and has seemed to reduce the impact of the influential Hurst.
Brown may well now be considering returning to a 4-3-3 in a bid to get Blues firing again.
But if this season is to have a successful conclusion, then they simply cannot afford to endure too many more afternoons like the one at Mansfield Town on Saturday.