League form: Wycombe WDWD | Southend LLLL
League head-to-head: P 16 | Wycombe W 7 | Southend W 5 | D 4
The last time: Southend 0-2 Wycombe (13th April 2019, League One)
Coming into the Game
Our last meeting seems like an age ago now. After our memorable, season-reviving victory at Roots Hall, the finishing line was within sight. For Southend, they looked to need a miracle – and they got it, beating Burton in the next home game, then clinching survival on the final day thanks to Stephen Humphrys‘ 87th minute winner against Sunderland. Perhaps that drama distracted attention from a deeper problem, though, as they’ve kicked off 2019/20 by losing four on the bounce, conceding 10 and scoring just one (which was an own goal). Their only goals of their own came in last week’s 2-1 Carabao Cup win at Stevenage.
While Wycombe will go out in search of three points for a best ever start to a third tier campaign (currently 10/15 points as Second Division newcomers in 1994), the visitors have never lost their opening five matches in their 99-year Football League history. The last time they came into their fifth fixture off the back of four defeats, they won – 3-1 v Leicester in 1992, in case you’re wondering. But…they’ve not won away from home since January – a run of 11 matches. Still, none of that means anything, does it?
In Their Dugout: Kevin Bond
He’s in the hot seat at the moment, but it’s getting so hot that he might not be for much longer. Since replacing Chris Powell in April, Bond has seen his side take eight points from a possible 30. Although a fairly popular appointment at the time, he’s always seemed better suited to the role of number two – notably alongside Harry Redknapp. His only previous permanent managerial job in English professional football was at Bournemouth more than a decade ago, while his only such jobs in the pro game full stop were two stints with Hong Kong Pegasus FC. A centre-back as a player, the 62-year-old made the majority of his appearances for Norwich, Man City, Southampton and Bournemouth.
The Danger Man for Them: Ethan Hamilton
On loan from Man United for the remainder of 2019/20, Hamilton is back in League One after an impressive loan spell at Rochdale earlier this year. The 20-year-old struck four times in 14 appearances as he helped steer Dale clear of the drop, and he could find himself having to aid the cause in another relegation battle – although I say that tentatively still. One of the few bright sparks in the Southend’s abysmal August, don’t be too surprised too see him in the Championship a year from now. While ostensibly more of a defensive midfielder, he’ll put in a real box-to-box shift and look to surge forward, so we’ll need to shut him down. The Shrimpers’ strikers may be misfiring – well, the whole team is – but Hamilton can do this:
The Opposition View with Cal Connolly (@CFConnolly97)
It’s safe to say our start to the season has been nothing but an unmitigated disaster. After escaping relegation to League Two by the smallest of margins on the final day, the appointment of the man who had kept us up, Kevin Bond, was largely welcomed.
However, three months on from that scarcely believable victory over Sunderland, it doesn’t feel like the stress and pain of the previous campaign has lifted from the club. The announcement that [exciting propsect] Dru Yearwood was not only absent from the squad but soon to depart to Brentford an hour before our first game seemed to set the tone for what has been a torrid and quite simply bleak month. Four games into what looks to be an extremely long season, we have shipped ten goals, scoring one – an own goal against ten men who were already 3-0 up.
Southend’s spine has been decimated in recent years and it is evident the club is still suffering from the departure [to Millwall] of [key midfielder] Ryan Leonard, who has not donned our colours in over 18 months. There has been a distinct lack of leadership for some time, which was further highlighted on Tuesday night against Peterborough. Our first-half performance was arguably the best of the season, but the moment Mohamed Eisa broke the deadlock early in the second half, the players seemed to throw in the towel. Beginning the game with five defenders at home is hardly a reflection of a manager who has great trust in his team.
Our fans will not have the patience to sit back and watch us trying to stave off relegation for a second successive year, and it seems that Bond is already losing some of the dressing room. He is the perfect man to be an assistant, but if early indicators are a sign, there are very good reasons as to why the only club he has managed in the past 11 years has been Hong Kong Pegasus.
Bond has yet to select an unchanged line-up or formation, and it is a surprise to fans if we even register a shot on target in a match, let alone put the ball in the net. We’re going into the weekend to face a Wycombe side who must be commended for what has been a very strong start operating under a tight budget. Bond is running out of time and options, and it would be of little surprise to see Wycombe put the final nail in his coffin. A fifth loss in a row seems like an inevitability.
A Deeper Look
So Southend have, by all accounts, had a mare. They don’t seem to know what they’re doing, which means anything I write here could end up being irrelevant. Still, here goes…
The most consistent element of the side so far has been a back four – which Bond has employed in all the league games bar the 3-1 home loss to Blackpool on the second weekend, when he went with a back three or five, depending on interpretation. New man Joe Shaughnessy hasn’t made the best of starts to life in England – the Irishman had previously only played in Scotland – and clumsily gave away a penalty in the 4-0 thrashing at Lincoln last Saturday. He’s been an ever present, though, and was partnered at centre-half by Harry Lennon in games one and four, but club stalwart John White and veteran summer signing Liam Ridgewell have also lined up as one of two or three centre-backs.
Ridgewell looked badly off the pace against Blackpool and was replaced after 52 minutes – but, in fairness, the 35-year-old former Aston Villa, Birmingham and West Brom man hadn’t played at all in pre-season. Bond later conceded that he might have brought him into the side too soon. He’s not been included in the squad since but is in contention to feature tomorrow.
Experienced right-back Jason Demetriou could make his first appearance of the campaign and replace Elvis Bwomono, who’s also played right wing-back and even right wing already – but left-back Nathan Ralph, who joined last month having left Dundee, may miss out with a hamstring problem. Andre Blackman, who’s returned to League football following a season with National League Barnet, came on for Ralph in the week so could make his full debut.
Defending set-pieces looks to be a real weakness for Southend; they’ve conceded 4/10 goals from them, looking comically disorganised at times. Another three have come from crosses from the left – Joe Jacobson, take note. Although Mark Oxley has been dropped for promising youth product Nathan Bishop – who fans generally consider the better all-round ‘keeper – evidence suggests that the back line as whole suffers from a distinct lack of command; get those balls into the box.
In midfield, danger man Hamilton and Mark Milligan should start. Another veteran summer arrival, playing in England for the first time, Australia captain Milligan was has been given his new club’s armband. A centre-back earlier in his career, the 34-year-old isn’t going to be venturing forward too much. If it’s a three, Sam Mantom will likely take up the more advanced role. Either Hamilton or Mantom could feasibly partner Milligan in the centre of a midfield four.
Stephen McLaughlin, Brandon Goodship and Isaac Hutchinson have all played out wide in a 4-4-2. McLaughlin endured a torrid time against Lincoln, conceding possession 19 times (with almost every other touch) and losing every single 50/50. He was taken off on 65 minutes. Former Yeovil striker/winger Goodship has spent the last two seasons in the seventh tier with Weymouth, so he’s probably still (re-)finding his feet as he returns to the EFL. 18-year-old academy graduate Hutchinson has only made four league starts. A 4-4-2 looks exploitable with the mouthwatering array of wide options at our disposal.
The Shrimpers’ first-half showing in Tuesday’s 2-0 defeat to Peterborough offered some encouragement, but it all came undone again as soon as the first goal went in just before the hour. They posted season-high possession and passing accuracy figures of 63% and 81% respectively – in fact, they’ve posted at least 51% and 75% in every league match so far – but, at the end of the day, they still failed to have a shot on target. After top-scoring last season with 17 in all competitions, star striker Simon Cox has managed just two efforts on goal so far, although he has been playing his way back in after injury.
If Bond goes with two up front, 2018/19 saviour Humphrys or highly-rated 17-year-old Charlie Kelman seem most likely to partner Cox. The former is rather a bruising presence and scored five in ten after signing from Fulham in January, while the latter was prolific at youth level and scored from his own half on his senior league debut. The United States U-18 international is also the only Southend player to get on the scoresheet in 2019/20; his brace secured the aforementioned Carabao Cup win.
What about us then? Well, we’re bound to see at least a couple of changes from midweek. If Jack Grimmer‘s knock was indeed just a knock, it’s fair to expect him back. That would allow Giles Phillips to revert to centre-back alongside Anthony Stewart. Judging by Darius Charles‘ interview on Ringing The Blues he’s not going to be able to play two games a week yet, although the official club site suggests otherwise. Adam El-Abd could be fit again, but even if he is and even considering his captaincy, does he regain his place?
This game falls into the ‘potential banana skin’ category, but I don’t think Gareth will take a cautious approach, as such. If he does set the midfield up as a 2-1 rather than a 1-2, though, Alex Pattison could carry on the slightly deeper role he played in against Fleetwood. He looked comfortable, helping to shield the back four and winning possession more times than anyone else on the pitch.
Consequently, Nick Freeman had more licence to go forward, although he did drop back for the ball on a number of occasions – which is exactly what you want from such a good ball carrier anyway. Dom Gape patrolled the middle third as authoritatively ever, and Matt Bloomfield was brought on to help see the game out – so close! All things considered, Gape-Pattison-Freeman from the start in some guise seems a safe bet.
We’ve already seen four front threes in four League One games – actually, we’ve seen five in five in all competitions – and we could see number five tomorrow, although I’ve settled on the same three that started last Saturday: Paul Smyth, Alex Samuel and Fred Onyedinma. Dave Wheeler enjoyed a superb full debut up at Fleetwood, and it comes close to a toss-up between him and Smyth, but I reckon the latter gets the nod. We won’t have a strongest starting 11 this season; it will be about adapting in accordance with what we’re facing.
Only once in the league so far have Southend conceded inside half an hour, and in two of them they’ve gone into the break at 0-0. Smyth, who didn’t feature last time out, won’t be a welcome sight for a defence that, while statistically the worst in League One, tends to hold firm at first. Give the floodgates that initial prod at any point and they could well and truly open, but a touch of magic might help ease any early frustration on our part.
Samuel should be fresh after playing less than half an hour last time out, which might mean Adebayo Akinfenwa – who still doesn’t look 100% himself after a bug – reverts to ultimate impact sub. Fred looks like he could play and run rings around defenders every day.
The Man in the Middle: Darren Drysdale
Another one who seems to like a penalty – though not as much as our friend Trevor – Drysdale has pointed to the spot once in each of his three games so far, which have been in League Two (Colchester 1-1 Port Vale), the Carabao Cup (Accrington 1-3 Sunderland) and League One (Blackpool 2-1 Oxford). He’s dished out 13 yellow cards, seven of them at Bloomfield Road last Saturday. He’s not been appointed to a Wycombe game since 1-0 defeat at Scunthorpe back in December, while he last took charge at Adams Park for that 4-0 drubbing by Accrington in the penultimate home game of 2017/18.
Photo: DipsyDave via Wikimedia Commons. Used under license. Cropped.