The two teams clashing at Roots Hall tomorrow could both do with a certain Adam Thompson in their ranks: the former Shrimpers centre-back was one of Phil Brown’s standout players in 2016/2017 and his loan switch from Bury to Bradford City close to deadline day has done little but expose some big problems at the back. Just to emphasise this point even more, between them, they have shipped 46 league goals already this campaign with Southend United almost at the halfway mark of last season’s total but still in mid-October.
The Essex outfit have only kept a solitary clean sheet in League One but similarly to Blackpool, they remain unbeaten on their own patch. The Shakers’ travails on the road are well-documented and it is an issue that urgently needs addressing for both the Lancashire outfit’s immediate fortunes and Lee Clark’s own position as manager. It is perfectly reasonable to suggest the visitors have been underperforming if not in recent displays but the results earned from them but will come up against another talented XI that haven’t really got going as of yet.
Brown could welcome back several key players into his matchday squad; captain Anton Ferdinand will return from his recent suspension and veterans Michael Kightly and Michael Turner could hand him further boosts. The leaky defence is likely to be tweaked in at least one area, with Ferdinand slotting back in to the right-sided centre back role. He completely froze Tom Pope out during the last encounter and will doubtlessly be tasked with doing the same excellent operation on another target man, Michael Smith. He could persist with yet another Michael (Timlin) at left-back. He is unlikely to be tested much in the air by Harry Bunn unless he tries to tuck inside to help his teammates stifle Jermaine Beckford’s movement.
Ryan Leonard, an individual coveted by other sides, is another player who would probably prefer to be in midfield but could be asked to remain in the back four, which will limit his opportunities to showcase his high level of ability. Blessed with electric pace and power, he is also excellent on the dribble, so if he is at centre back, he can be relied on to bring the ball out and pick his colleagues out with a variety of passes.
Kightly needs little introduction; his skill will keep Bury’s defenders on their toes and he will provide most of Southend’s attacking width and thrust. Anthony Wordsworth dictates the tempo in the middle of the park and is almost as useful on his right foot as his left and there is plenty of scope for getting in between the opponents’ lines with passing triangles. 17 year-old Dru Yearwood could retain his spot and will divide his responsibilities carefully between supporting his partner and ensuring the spaces between the banks of four too don’t become too wide. Josh Wright, controversially let go by Gillingham, will cut inside often and shoot from range, so he will need closing down on a regular basis to prevent too many opportunities coming his way.
The front two are tireless workers and physically imposing. Simon Cox also has a creative edge and will look to play in the runners from midfield. If Marc-Antoine Fortuné gets the nod, he will use his strength and presence to shield the ball away from Eoghan O’Connell. If I were in the home dugout, I’d be tempted to go for the pace of Nile Ranger instead and let him scamper in the half-space and on the last shoulder.
The only likely change from the latest defeat is Jay O’Shea in place of Chris Maguire, who was carrying a knock and hasn’t been as immediately impressive roving behind the strikers since the international break. Once more, the width will all be on Greg Leigh and Bunn, who must temper their forward forays with helping out their largely one-paced central defensive compatriots. Josh Laurent will have a difficult assignment up against Wordsworth and must at least give the playmaker food for thought in order to prevent it becoming one-way traffic. If O’Shea can draw out Leonard, it will give Beckford the sort of room he enjoys working in.
As for a prediction, it’s hard to see there not being plenty of goals at Roots Hall. I’m backing Bury to come out on top of a 3-2 scoreline but they will pushed all the way. Should proceedings and the result go against Clark’s men, the pressure will well and truly be back on his shoulders to come up with something special in the local derby on Tuesday at Oldham Athletic. Time is already ticking on his chances to string together even two games without defeat.