Below Par?

Saturday returned and this time Sunderland hosted the struggling Southend. The visitors came into the game second off bottom in the table, with Bolton being the only team below them. Last time the two sides met at the Stadium of Light Sunderland came out comfortable 3-0 winners, with one very memorable strike from distance putting Chris Maguire’s name on the scoresheet. Most supporters expected a similar result in this fixture and a clean sheet would be a huge added bonus.

Jon McLaughlin started in goal, with Lee Burge picking up a very unfortunate injury after an impressive run of form. George Dobson and Max Power were the duo in central midfield, with Grant Leadbitter and Dylan McGeouch both on the bench. Aiden McGeady continued in midfield with Will Grigg up front. After that missed penalty in midweek, this game would be a huge opportunity for Will Grigg to redeem himself against a team who have a very poor defensive record so far this season.

Former Arsenal and Tottenham defender Sol Campbell was the recently appointed Southend manager, with the difficult task of trying to avoid the drop. An embarrassing 7-1 defeat at home to Doncaster was followed by an improved 3-1 loss to Ipswich in their last two league results. They came into the game with just one win from the opening fifteen league matches and with just five points on the table so far this campaign. There weren’t too many recognisable names in their line-up, with former Reading striker Simon Cox the biggest known threat in attack. He was partnered with Tom Hopper in what looked like a 5-3-2 but with the two fullbacks progressing into more advanced roles when the visitors retrieved possession.

A brilliantly observed minute’s silence took place prior to kick off, with another impressive crowd in attendance. Sunderland got off on the front foot with Aiden McGeady and Chris Maguire both keeping the Southend defenders on their toes. It was McGeady who had the first sight of goal, with his effort drifting wide after twelve minutes. However, it wasn’t long before Luke O’Nien broke the deadlock with a superb header. Denver Hume, who had a brilliant start to the game, fired a threatening ball across the face of goal and Luke O’Nien met it brilliantly with a textbook diving header into the corner of the net, 1-0 Sunderland. Phil Parkinson’s side continued to dominate possession approaching the half-hour mark, with Will Grigg’s blocked attempt being the closest to another goal. However, the away side should have levelled just before half time but Brandon Goodship failed to make a good connection with the ball from close range, with his attempt going wayward to let Sunderland off the hook. Overall, it was a comfortable but disappointing half from our perspective because we really should be going at teams like Southend, especially at home. We hadn’t really made any clear cut chances despite controlling the game with the majority of possession. Fortunately, a moment of magic saw us go in for half time a goal to the good and on track for an important three points.

Sunderland continued to dominate following the restart, with Will Grigg heading just over after a dangerous delivery from Conor McLaughlin. Denver Hume wasn’t easily stopped as he menaced his way into the Southend box to win a corner. The young fullback was full of confidence and ran at the opposing defence all game, producing one of his best performances so far in red and white. The pressure continued from Sunderland, with Duncan Watmore’s introduction causing the shrimpers’ further problems and adding some much-needed pace in the final third. The referee blew for full time, with a 1-0 win for Sunderland after an underwhelming performance.

At the end of the day, it’s the results that impact the league table and not the performances. It is much better to underperform and get a win than to play well and lose. However, we need to be more ruthless in attack and some players need to be more willing to have shots on goal when they find the space. We seemed happy to settle for a 1-0 victory when in reality these players are more than capable of putting three or four past teams like this, as they showed against Tranmere a few weeks ago. Next up, we face Leicester U21s in the Football League Trophy, which will hopefully give some of our younger players an opportunity to shine and get some more minutes under their belts.