SOUTHEND United continued their recent habit of picking up points without playing well by grabbing a determined 1-1 draw at Accrington Stanley on Saturday.
Kevan Hurst’s 82nd minute strike rescued a share of the spoils for Paul Sturrock’s side. But it was far from being a pleasing afternoon for Blues.
The team were below par and quite fortunate to escape defeat against an out-of-form Stanley side who are fighting to avoid relegation.
And even more disappointing was the red card shown to Ryan Cresswell.
The defender needlessly lost his cool midway through the second half and will now sit out Southend’s next three matches.
That will be a body blow for Blues as the commanding centre back has easily been their best and most consistent performer throughout the current campaign.
His absence will therefore hit Southend hard, especially as other key members of the side are also unavailable.
Captain Chris Barker, last season’s player of the year Mark Phillips, influential midfielder Michael Timlin and top goalscorer Gavin Tomlin all missed Saturday’s draw at Accrington and Cresswell has now added to the list of those on the sidelines.
To compound those woes, Marc Laird and Mickey Spillane are cup tied for the second leg of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy southern section final against Leyton Orient.
And that leaves Sturrock severely short of options. Making matters worse is the fact that Blues’ next few games will also have a huge say in determining their destiny this season.
For their next two league outings are against Cheltenham and Northampton, the teams immediately above them in the table, and after that they take on Orient with a Wembley final the prize for the winners.
Those seven days will be huge for Southend’s seasons and could see them either up in the automatic promotion places or languishing in mid-table.
The outcome of the Orient clash will mean Southend will either gain or lose momentum and for the best case scenario to materialise, Sturrock will ideally need to bring in fresh faces and add extra impetus to his depleted squad.
A replacement for the injured Timlin tops the list of requirements, but the club’s fragile financial situation means other signings may well not be possible.
And that means other members of Blues’ current squad may well have to step up and be counted.
Some, who have been on the periphery of things so far this season, could soon be called upon due to the long list of those on the sidelines.
But others, like Britt Assombalonga, need to rediscover their best form.
The striker was a constant threat to opposition defences at the start of the season, scoring nine goals in his first 14 games.
However, an ankle injury and an unprecedented number of matches in his career seem to have now caught up with the young striker, who has not hit the back of the net in nine games, which stretches back to November.
His barren run is particularly noticeable right now due to the absence of Tomlin, who is facing a few more weeks on the sidelines with a torn thigh.
Blues therefore need a striker to step up and begin to hit the back of the net regularly again and Sturrock is certainly not short of options in the striking department.
Caolan Lavery, Barry Corr, Freddy Eastwood and Neil Harris are all bidding to be involved, but quality not quantity remains the concern and Southend’s strength in depth will now be severely tested.
The worry remains that it comes at a crucial and critical time of the year and the outcome of the next few games will determine the capabilities of Blues’ squad players, along with the club’s chances of success this season