ITEN Match Preview: Southend (H)
Rovers return to action at home tonight looking to build on the resilient performance against Sunderland, taking on an opponent who they fared very well against in the reverse fixture…
Sol’s Shrimpers Struggle
Southend United are, for all intents and purposes, the worst side in the league. Second bottom of League One and with only two wins all season, Sol Campbell has a monumental challenge trying to keep the Essex club in the division. The Shrimpers are however unbeaten in their last four games – with three successive draws before doubling their win tally for the season at Accrington last time out – so will feel in a better place to improve on the 7-1 drubbing they suffered at home to Rovers in October.
Top scorer Stephen Humphrys is fit to return to the starting line-up after illness, with an interesting subplot surrounding the striker ahead of this game. Humphrys has been a reported Rovers target for much of the transfer window with some outlets claiming a deal may still happen, but he looks certain to start for the visitors tonight after the sale of Tom Hopper to Lincoln. He could partner 18-year-old forward Charlie Kelman in attack after the teenager scored in the Accrington victory.
Southend have had a miserable January so far despite the improvement on the field, with Hopper following Simon Cox out of the club and no replacements materialising. Experienced defender Rob Kiernan has also agreed an exit but will bizarrely still play against Rovers after an agreement was struck with his new club Orange County.
Impetus to Attack
Darren Moore meanwhile has finally been able to add to his ranks this week, adding Wigan striker Devante Cole on a deal until the end of the season yesterday. Cole fills a serious need up front and will hopefully provide quality and goals that have been lacking at times this year, but is likely to be a substitute tonight with Niall Ennis continuing as a lone front man.
Kieran Sadlier is reportedly fit to play after suffering a nasty facial injury against Coventry, missing the Sunderland game as a result. He too may be kept on the bench though as James Coppinger pushes to start in attacking midfield, where a change will surely come as Rovers look to start on the front foot against a relegation-threatened team, meaning there is no need to double up with Reece James and Cameron John together on the left flank again.
Madger Gomes did more than enough to merit keeping his place in the team with a sterling display at Sunderland, so Copps could play out wide opposite Jon Taylor, or Gomes could be moved to the flank as James likely drops in to the conventional four-man defence and John unfortunately misses out. Whatever the manager goes with, it is pleasing that he has a few different options to choose from.
Nobody on either side of the fixture will have forgotten in October as Rovers ran riot at Roots Hall to record a 7-1 victory as Sol Campbell, appointed just before kick-off, watched on from the stands. Two red cards didn’t help matters for the Shrimpers, who will surely pose more of a threat this time round. Rovers also did the double over Southend last season, including a 3-2 smash-and-grab on the opening day in Grant McCann’s first match as manager.
In fact, Rovers come into this one on a ten-game unbeaten run against the Shrimpers and have only tasted defeat once in an impressive sixteen games going back to 1990. The sole blemish was a 3-2 away defeat in 2007 when Leon Clarke scored the winner, in a season that ended in Rovers’ emphatic 5-1 Play-Off win over Southend to book a ticket to Wembley, with James Coppinger enjoying his finest night in the hoops.
Tom Anderson was rightly named Man of the Match by Sky for his latest impression of a brick wall at Sunderland, and he figures to play a key role again tonight. Stephen Humphrys is the sort of physical striker that will give Anderson a stern test, and whether he is heading here on a more regular basis or not, the Oldham native will want to prove his worth and add to his five-goal tally.
Southend’s 3-5-2 formation will seek to get early balls in for Humphrys to feed off, something that Anderson and defensive partner Joe Wright will have to be well prepared to deal with. They performed the same task impeccably at the Stadium of Light against a similarly physical striker in Charlie Wyke, so will hopefully be relishing the chance to earn another clean sheet.