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Up the standard at Southend United to build on lucky wins
FOR THE second Saturday in succession Southend United ground out a 1-0 win in slightly fortuitous circumstances.
For, just like against Chesterfield in their previous outing, Blues were forced to withstand spells of pressure against Oxford United at Roots Hall and were indebted to more good goalkeeping from Paul Smith.
He continued his upturn in form by twice denying visiting winger Alfie Potter when he was clean through on goal.
And, after those splendid stops, Southend converted their only clear cut chance of the game, with Ryan Leonard heading home to secure all three points just five minutes from time.
However, the narrow margin of the victory did not come as surprise as fewer goals have been scored at Roots Hall than other any ground in League Two so far this season.
Leonard’s header was just the 30th to be netted at Southend’s stadium this term in the 14th league game it has hosted and that again underlines the closeness of the majority of matches at this level.
Blues now also boast the best home defensive record in the division plus the second best record overall and that has provided them with the platform for possible success this year.
The fine form of Ryan Cresswell has been a major reason for that occurring and he was again incredibly influential in Saturday’s game going Southend’s way.
However, while that fantastic fighting spirit and the ability to carve out results in difficult circumstances is to be commended, it can only be relied upon for so long.
Smash-and-grab style performances cannot consistently be guaranteed and Southend will therefore have to raise their game to maintain the run of improved results during what will be a demanding and decisive February.
A step up in standard is especially required going forward where clear cut chances have been in short supply in recent weeks.
Subsequently, Southend have now scored the fewest number of goals at home among the top 17 teams in the League.
And an untimely injury to top goalscorer Gavin Tomlin will not help that poor scoring record improve.
Tomlin pulled a thigh muscle on the eve of Saturday’s game and his work rate and goalscoring abilities will be missed during his spell on the sidelines.
Blues certainly do not have a shortage of strikers though, with Barry Corr, Britt Assombalonga, Caolan Lavery, Neil Harris, Freddy Eastwood and Elliot Benyon also available in attack and they will now need to take the chances that may come their way during Tomlin’s absence.
But creating opportunities for those forwards will also be crucial and for that to happen, boss Paul Sturrock must rediscover the best balance in midfield.
Having Marc Laird back fit will improve that area of the pitch, while Kevan Hurst and Michael Timlin have proved themselves as reliable performers this term.
New signing Michael Spillane is now trying to find his way in the team, which may take time, along with Ben Reeves who looked very bright when entering the action as a late substitute against Oxford.
Sturrock must come up with the best blend, but this area of the side looks set to be continually changed in the next few weeks.
Spillane and Laird are cup tied for the forthcoming Johnstone’s Paint Trophy games with Leyton Orient, while Timlin is just one booking away from a two-match ban.
Neither of those scenarios will help Southend’s cause, but they deserve to be commended for remaining in contention and they are now well set for a final push.
Promotion and a Wembley final final are still the ultimate targets and both are still real possibilities.
But for that to happen Blues must combine their spirit with more attacking guile. If that can be achieved, then anything could be possible for Southend during the remainder of the season.