Both Southend and Plymouth come into this encounter at Roots Hall on the back of league victories, but in need of three points. United sit just eight points clear of the relegation zone but also 10 off the League One play-offs; their start to 2019 will determine whether they’re pushing for the play-offs or fighting relegation. Meanwhile Argyle are looking to record back-to-back wins for just the second time this season. Depending on results elsewhere, Derek Adams’ side could climb out of the relegation zone for the first time since mid-August.

Line Up

Simon Cox will look to return to the starting line-up after starting on the bench during the 2-0 win over Gillingham on New Year’s Day following the suspension of fellow forward Theo Robinson.

Goalkeeper Nathan Bishop could also keep his place in the side following a fantastic display in the same fixture. The 19-year-old made just his fourth start of the season with manager Chris Powell heaping praise on the youngster.

Right-back Elvis Bwomono is another young player who has seized his opportunity with both hands. The 20-year-old has impressed since coming into the side in mid-November.

Predicted Line Up (4-3-3)

Bishop

Bwomono, Moore, Turner, Hendrie

Yearwood, Dieng, Mantom

Bunn, Cox, Hutchinson

Style of Play

Southend boast one of the better defensive records in League One with their tally of 31 goals conceded from 26 games only bettered by five other sides including high flying Portsmouth, Luton and Sunderland. A lot of this is down to their high-pressure style, similar to that of Liverpool. Once possession is lost, often two or three Southend players attempt close down the opposition all at once in order to get the ball back or pressurise the man into making an error. The Shrimps’ third goal in their 3-0 win over Accrington in December was an example of this tactic in action with both Timothée Dieng and Simon Cox combining to dispossess the opposition and set up Theo Robinson from what was originally a short taken Accrington free-kick in their defensive third.

They have coped well with an injury crisis that has seen four goalkeepers make an appearances: Mark Oxley, Ted Smith and Nathan Bishop as well as Birmingham’s David Stockdale during an emergency loan spell earlier in the season. In fact over the course of the season, Chris Powell has used exactly 30 players in his matchday sides, showing the high turnover in his selections.

Due to the lack of a target man in the side, United play a more fluid style of football, preferring to keep the ball on the ground. Similarly in the way they defend, Chris Powell’s side go forward in packs, stretching opposition defences with central midfielders Dieng and Dru Yearwood often making surging runs through the middle in order to either find a winger out wide or slide the ball through to Cox up front. The pair have assisted five goals between them so far this season.

Despite the crucial loss of Hopper – who scored seven goals in 14 games earlier in the season as the side utilised his aerial abilities – Southend have coped well in terms of scoring goals. Their attacking philosophy has seen them score 36 goals in 26 games which only the league’s top seven sides can better. As ever, veteran Simon Cox has stepped up to the plate as the side’s regular goalscorer with seven so far this season. The likes of Theo Robinson, Sam Manthom, Jason Dimitriou and Dieng have also chipped in with vital goals to ease the burden on former Reading man, Cox.

Key Player

Following injury to first choice forward Tom Hopper, all eyes were on veteran Simon Cox. The 31-year-old has already registered seven goals for Southend this season as well as three assists, ranking him top in terms of goals and second for assists with only left-back Ben Coker registering more (four). The absence of Theo Robinson who was sent off for a second bookable offence in their 2-0 win over Gillingham on New Year’s Day will further increase pressure on the former Republic of Ireland international. Standing at just 5ft 11in, Cox is by no means a target man, but he suits Southend’s current style of play as he gets himself about and into positions for his teammates to create chances for him. Similarly to Ian Henderson for Rochdale, the evergreen Cox operates well within a team that is structured to get the best out of him.

Weaknesses

Consistency has been a real issue for Southend this season and has seemingly proved the difference between their current mid-table position and an outside shot of reaching the play-offs. Their recent run is a perfect example of this with their last seven league games following a win, loss pattern. Throughout the season, the only time in which they’ve picked up back-to-back wins was the trio picked up against Fleetwood, Wycombe and Oxford back in October during a rare six match unbeaten run.

Whilst they have done well in beating the majority of the sides below them, they have lost against eight of the nine sides above them so far this season. Only a 2-1 victory over ninth placed Burton, who at the time were struggling back in October, bucks the trend. Whilst defensively United are sound, they often find themselves looking vulnerable at the back and against the divisions better sides they are punished. Whilst recently defeating struggling Oxford 1-0 they could have very easily lost the game, handing their opposition a number of chances that you feel better sides such as Portsmouth and Sunderland would have punished.

Score Prediction

Buoyed by the 3-0 demolition of Oxford and the benefit of a week off to rest, Plymouth Argyle should come into this game full of confidence. The form of Ruben Lameiras has been vital in recent weeks and should he and Graham Carey perform to the levels that they are capable of they should cause a lot of problems for the Southend defence. Whilst lacking any sort of momentum or consistency, Southend have performed well against the sides lower in the division. It will be a tight affair but I believe that Argyle will win this one 2-1.

Author: Tom Sleeman

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