It’s no bad thing, having a bit of a break from the league. After an up and down start Phil Parkinson will appreciate being able to get to know his players and make clear what he wants on the training ground. Hopefully, he’ll get some of them fitter. I hate harking back to Allardyce all the time but that was Big Sam’s first observation and we saw things change significantly for the better once he had improved their fitness.
There are positives and negatives from Parkinson’s five games to date but the only thing that really concerns me at this stage is something he has no control of. Luck. I know it's said you make your own luck but Jack Ross didn’t have much, good or bad. Yet, following his departure, we struck the woodwork five times and had two good penalty shouts rejected at Shrewsbury and Oxford. Even Karl Robinson acknowledged his team had got lucky as he broke away from his Footlong Sub to light a cigar and bask in the glory of a place in the quarter-finals. I cared about our run in this competition as much as I care about Mags' merch - but I've got to admit that a visit from Manchester City the week before Christmas would have been nice.
Anyway, Southend were thankfully our next opponents and, carrying all the threat of a dying shrimp under a new manager of their own, rarely threatened to stop us taking three O’Nien-inspired points.
The penny seems to be dropping that we’re not going to blow teams away. Time and again we’ve found the ones who come up here with the right blend of shithousery, confidence, fearlessness and organisation are the ones who leave with more than the tail-between-the-legs pasting everyone was hoping for a couple of hours previously. The team at the top of our league are showing the way because they're getting the absolute best out of their resources and enjoy bloodying a nose or two.
We shouldn't sniff at successive clean sheets at home though. Sure, they came against two very weak teams but you can only beat who you’re up against. In the last month we’ve lost to Lincoln, Shrewsbury and Wycombe for the first time in our history – and not even scored against any of them - so beggars can’t be choosers. Grind out a few more ugly home victories and we’ll be on the way to turning things around. Historically, we’re not alone in being stronger at home than away, even if there’s been little evidence of that in the last few years. Make no mistake though, getting it right up here will bring the confidence we need, wherever we play.
Ross got plenty right in his time at our place and has rightly pointed out that he only suffered one home defeat. Since he's gone, I'd wager he's thought many a time that he'd still be in charge if he had only had a plan B which turned the draws into wins.
Before I go, it’d be wrong not to mention a couple of Belgian-related observations from the latest round of Ligue 1 highlights.
Firstly, Jason Denayer’s hilarious stand-up tour of Europe is continuing in front of packed houses. Lyon play Benfica in the Champions League tonight, so you've time to nip out for some popcorn before the capers unfold on BT Sport.
Secondly, in the unlikely event a decent chunk of the £10million invested in the club last week is made available for transfers, we could do worse than look at Reims’ right-back. It’s clearly an area where we could improve and their first-choice looks the part, getting forward well and crossing on a sixpence. I’m clearly not the only one who has him on the radar as I’ve heard his name mentioned time and again at our games recently, particularly when a cross fails to find its intended target. His name? Foket, as it sounds. Thomas Foket...