James Maddison leaves the game early against Walsall. That’s okay, we’ve still got plenty of players who can win games on their own. Nothing much to worry about.

Walsall go on to win the game. That’s okay, it’s still a long season ahead. Nothing much to worry about.

James Maddison is confirmed to be out for the next three months. That’s okay…er… Nothing much to worry about?

That’s where we are right now. There is a strong suspicion that losing James Maddison is a bitter blow to our chances. It’s hard not to correlate the poor showing against Walsall with Maddison’s departure early on. So many players played below what we had seen from them this season and it seemed to be closely related to the fact that they didn’t have Maddison to pass to.

This Southend game could define what could be as long as a 20-game spell that we’ll be without James Maddison for. There was a lack of intensity overall against Walsall which may have been down more to fatigue than losing Maddison. Nine days on the training pitch to recover whilst adjusting some tactical elements of our play could prove the tonic to last week’s ills.

This is where having somebody experienced in charge like Tony Mowbray will make the difference. What saved us last season wasn’t going on a long winning streak, rather it was that ability to recover from defeats with greater ease than we had previously been able to. Over-reacting to the loss of a key player would have been just like that terrible team that played for us last season, this game is a chance to demonstrate that genuine progress has been made.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

Aside from Jordan Willis, who also is out for several months, Tony Mowbray can name the vast majority of a team that won three games in a row for this fixture. In terms of replacing Maddison on the pitch, Ruben Lameiras seems the most direct replacement from the options available. Lameiras showed promise in the second-half against Walsall when played in that central attacking midfield position as most of our good play in that game came through him. Other options include taking another look at Danny Swanson after his two assists in the under-21 game last week or introducing Marcus Tudgay as a more physically robust option.

That should mean that there’s plenty of options to keep Jim O’Brien from playing in that central role. Whilst O’Brien is capable of beating opponents and threading weighted passes behind the defence, he struggles to produce it on demand. Furthermore, O’Brien’s partnership with Stokes down the left has been bringing the best out of the duo so far and breaking it up in the Walsall game saw both fall below the standards they had been setting for themselves this season.

Last Time We Met

It has been just under nine years since we last faced Southend United, during the brief period when we were both Championship sides at the same time. A Coventry City team featuring the quintessential midfield pairing of Stephen Hughes and Michael Doyle took the lead at the Ricoh Arena after Elliott Ward headed in a Darren Currie corner. Steve Tilson’s Southend found an equaliser though in the final minutes via Mark Gower, which did little to help the Essex team to avoid relegation that season.

How Are They Doing?

It’s been a journey to hell and back for Southend since that December afternoon at the Ricoh Arena in 2006. Relegation to the third-tier was eventually followed by financial struggles, another relegation and several close shaves with liquidation. Paul Sturrock eventually stabilised the club, taking them to the play-offs and JPT final before being harshly sacked weeks before he could enjoy a well-deserved afternoon at Wembley.

Phil Brown was a thoroughly unpopular choice as Sturrock’s replacement but has been able to build on his predecessor’s achievements. Despite lacking experience of League Two football, Brown has built a strong team dynamic whilst leading the club to consecutive fifth-place finishes in the fourth-tier before leading Southend to promotion via the play-offs last season.

The star of this Southend team is goalkeeper Daniel Bentley, who last season conceded just nine league goals at home. A product of the club’s academy, Bentley is a tall and confident young goalkeeper which gives Southend the stability in their play that comes from knowing that their goalkeeper will bail them out almost regardless of what their doing.

Much of the rest of Southend’s team features your classic lower league journeymen workmanlike footballers, that they employ Gary Deegan would suggest as much. It’s players like Deegan as well as Michael Timlin, John White and Adam Barrett that provide the character of this team. Phil Brown has further added to that dynamic by bringing in the hard-working strikers Noel Hunt and David Mooney as his key summer signings.

There are a few flair players in the squad that give Southend more of a threat about them. Winger Stephen McLaughlin is a recent signing from Nottingham Forest after a good loan spell last season, he’s generally regarded as something of a one in three man in terms of providing inspiration. Anthony Wordsworth is also at the club, his delivery from set-pieces provide Southend with their biggest attacking threat. Then there’s the ‘Southend Messi’ Jack Payne who is an exciting little attacking midfielder who is one of the few Southend players who can dribble past an opponent.

Prediction

This is all set up to be the next in a long line of games at the Ricoh Arena between a Coventry City side expected to dominate and an opposition team who’ll set up to soak up pressure and look to nick a goal at the other end. Without James Maddison in the side, there is the worry that we lack the unpredictability that can create uncertainty within the opposing team’s defensive fortifications. This game is all about finding a way to win with the options we have left.

I always kind of expect the worst in these type of games but for now, I’m going to be optimistic and predict a 2-0 win for Coventry City.

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