Championship Play-Off Final: Michael Owen’s View
Accrington Stanley and Southend United are both hoping to put further distance between themselves and the bottom four on Saturday – here’s how we see the clash going.
Accrington Stanley could not hold onto their two-goal second half lead at Sunderland last time out, but their performance in a 2-2 draw at the third-tier giants could kick their season back into life, because they beat Oxford 4-2 the following Tuesday.
Before those two games, they had an unwanted record of drawing a blank in each of the previous six league games, but it was not for want of trying.
Their Expected Goals For (xGF) record in that time read 1.20, which shows they were creating a higher volume and better quality of chances than 11 teams.
There was not too much wrong with the strategic elements of their performance, nor their application, but confidence eluded them in front of goal.
At the Stadium of Light, we not only saw brave centre-back performances from Ross Sykes and Mark Hughes, plus an enthusiasm for keeping hold of the ball from midfielders Scott Brown and Daniel Barlaser, but also signs that the strike-partnership of Billy Kee and Paul Smythe could come to life.
Kee, who scored 25 league goals for the East Lancashire outfit last season, is only 5’9” yet provides strong hold-up play and converted the penalty to open the scoring on Wearside, before bagging the opener against Oxford.
Smythe is often described as being quick; yet perhaps more accurate terms would be energetic and persistent.
The QPR loanee is not necessarily an electric speedster like Offrande Zanzala, but his most appealing quality is his refusal to stop running for his team or to give up on a ball if dispossessed.
Plus, Smythe is very neat and accurate in possession, he has the selflessness to bring his teammates into the game, making him more than deserving of his goal and man-of-the-match award against Sunderland; and a key component of an attacking performance on Tuesday that yielded four team goals.
If Kee and Smythe take confidence from recent displays, then the struggle for goals Accrington had at the start of 2019 could become a thing of the past.
So far this season, Southend have been wildly inconsistent.
They had recently gone on a remarkable 11-game league sequence of a win followed by a defeat followed by a win and so on, making them predictable in their unpredictability.
Until Saturday’s 3-3 draw with Portsmouth though, they had rarely gone from the sublime to the ridiculous – or vice versa, to be more precise – within the same game.
The Shrimpers appeared to be out of the contest after just half an hour, because they had been torn apart in wide areas with full-backs Elvis Bwomono and Sam Hart frequently caught out, plus Timothee Dieng struggling to get a grip on the midfield.
They found themselves three down and their visitors had had a goal disallowed in that period, too.
The response, however, answers any questions about the spirit in the Southend camp – and, if there were any, about the quality of Simon Cox.
The striker ruthlessly headed home Hart’s cross from the left for the first goal, then stuck away the penalty with assurance, before making the most of a delightful through ball from Dieng to earn himself a hat-trick and his side, a point.
In Cox’s career, he has generally been too good for League Two with Swindon and while Forest fans were not overly keen on him at Championship level, he has a work ethic and a presence about him that has made him a strong performer in League One.
The former Republic of Ireland international has scored a respectable 42 goals in 119 games for the Shrimpers and should ensure his side get on the scoresheet in East Lancashire.
Both Teams To Score 4/5