Despite two late goals, Southend United were edged out 3-2 by Doncaster Rovers on the opening day of the season. Did the performance warrant defeat or were there encouraging signs that the best is yet to come?
It may have been a defeat but there were so many positives from the match. In the first half they had a shedload of chances but in the second period, Southend went to sleep for 15-20 minutes and that’s when Doncaster scored the three goals. But despite all of that - and maybe in seasons past their heads would have completely gone – they rallied round, took the game by the scruff of the neck and nearly came back, from 3-0 down, to steal a point and possibly more. The stats showed Southend had 24 shots and they only scored two, but that can be viewed in two ways, of course: one, you are creating a good load of chances, two, you aren’t actually taking them. That might be a negative but they were fine against Doncaster; it wasn’t disastrous and the way it went, I think everybody came out of the game full of positives for the season.
It’s the start of Chris Powell’s first full season in charge at Roots Hall and he’s made the squad his own with six new signings and a fair few departures. Are there signs they can kick on and finish higher than the tenth-place finish they achieved in 2017/18?
Chris Powell, who was a great man as a player with Southend United, gave everything he had as a player and is now doing that as a manager. He is loved by the fans and they hope they can go to the next level having got themselves into the top ten last year. It’s a strong division and I think trying to get into the top two is going to be too difficult, but getting into the Play-Offs would be the aim. And I think with a good run, staying injury free for the most part along with a bit of luck, which you always need, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t achieve that. When Chris Powell came to Southend in January they were on a bit of a downer, it was not going well under Phil Brown and they were on a poor run, despite the successes Phil Brown, to be fair, had brought them over the last few years. I know new managers tend to do it, but he galvanized the team and got them going in the right direction. I think he has a good team and he, as a man manager, can get the best out of the players he has. It may not be the strongest squad in the division but it’s a very good team.
With that in mind, which Southend player should Brentford fans be keeping a close eye on on Tuesday evening?
The biggest threat, if you will, is not a striker, it would be the goalkeeper, Mark Oxley. He’s been doing really well of late but when he came to the club a couple of years back, it did not go well for him initially. The fans didn’t take to him but that seemed to galvanize him. He was then dropped and replaced by a younger goalkeeper but he’s now back in the side, has been for the year and rightly was given the Player of the Season award last year. He’s just recently signed a new three-year deal and you’ll be doing well to get past him because he’s a big man and a good, solid ‘keeper, who does command his defence. Up front, Southend have got summer signing Tom Hopper who is a useful player and scored on his debut against Doncaster; if he can get going this season, I reckon he can get a few goals. Likewise with the vastly experienced Simon Cox who has also just signed a one-year deal with The Blues. If he can get going, then he’s going to be a man to watch, too. In midfield, Sam Mantom – who was on loan for six months last year – is a good man to bring things together in midfield. Across the pitch Chris Powell has quality players at his disposal, though which team he’ll play against Brentford, I’m not quite sure.
With it being a League Cup game, first choice Bees stopper Dan Bentley is unlikely to feature at Roots Hall but, should he play, how will the former Shrimper be received?
He was loved at Southend. He was so good and you saw him flourish when he was playing at Roots Hall. We saw him go from being a young goalkeeper – I know it’s a cliché – to a man of a goalkeeper. He learned in every match he played and he just grew into those gloves for Southend, culminating in the Play-Off victory against Wycombe Wanderers at Wembley. He is now etched in many peoples’ minds as one of the great goalkeepers of Southend. Obviously it differs depending on which generation you are from, but for the younger fans, he is loved and will be greeted, if he does play in that game, as a hero, although if he does let in a few, he will go up in our estimations! He was great on the pitch and a really nice man; not only a professional footballer, but a professional person as well.
It’s getting on for six years since the two sides last met so what are you expecting from Brentford on Tuesday evening?
With Brentford, whoever plays, you know they are going to be a quality side and Southend are going to have to be a their best to get through, but I’m assuming Chris Powell will name a very strong side and will be going for the win. Southend’s record in cup competitions in recent years is really poor and we always harp back to 2006 when The Blues beat Manchester United in the League Cup – that’s the last time the club had any sort of success in the competition. It’s been a long time coming but maybe this year will be the year to launch a run, but it is going to be tough to get past Brentford and though they have home advantage, we will have to see how it goes.
How is Chris Powell likely to set his side up for the game?
He likes to keep in simple with a 4-4-2 for the majority of the time, and he started with that on Saturday. I think if you keep it simple with League One footballers, it works – they know what they are doing, they know their positions and that’s how he’s been playing, with a formation that suits his squad. He has tinkered with it, playing a 4-3-3 or sometimes even putting five in the midfield with one loan striker, but when you have the players he has, it just seems to work. Everybody knows their jobs, everyone knows what they should be doing and they try to do that. He may change it as the match progresses but that’s how he usually sets up.
What’s your score prediction?
7-0 to Southend, it’ll be a thriller! Jokes aside, I reckon it’ll be a tight game and the way Chris Powell sets up and with the positivity around the club at the moment, it would not surprise me if Southend get their first League Cup victory for many, many years and sneak past Brentford by a goal to nil.
Tickets will be available tomorrow night, cash only, from the away ticket office next to the away turnstiles: £12 adult, £6 concessions, £2 under-16s