League One Gameweek 36: Feel-Good Factor At Blackpool6 min read
Blackpool are back
At long last, Blackpool fans have won their battle with the Oystons, who have now left the football club.
— BST (@BlackpoolST) March 4, 2019
Every Tangerines fan who had persevered with the Not A Penny More (NAPM) campaign can now buy tickets at Bloomfield Road.
A packed house, in contrast with over 13,000 empty seats for the recent 1-0 home defeat to Oxford, would be a joyous sight for anyone connected with Blackpool, football, sport or basic justice.
The emotional implications of this game could play a significant role, as they did in last week’s 2-1 win at Accrington.
Terry McPhillips made one or two defensive tweaks to the side that suffered a 4-0 capitulation at Bristol Rovers the previous Saturday, which was important.
Rather than having two classic strikers on the pitch in Nathan Delfouneso and Armand Gnanduillet, the latter was this time flanked by Joe Dodoo and Liam Feeney in more withdrawn roles, with Ant Evans sometimes pushing up.
That gave them more balance and meant that they did not rely too heavily on influential captain Jay Spearing for protection, as had been the issue at Bristol Rovers.
Oliver Turton looked more comfortable back at right-back while Ben Heneghan and Curtis Tilt looked more like the centre-backs who have helped the Tangerines to 16 clean sheets, the joint-most in League One.
This is a challenging period for Southend, who have taken just three points from their last seven league games.
The Shrimpers entered 2018-19 with hope that they could pick up from last season’s late play-off charge but now, they are an insurmountable 14 points off the top six, only four points above the drop zone and tasked with ensuring the campaign is nothing worse than mediocre.
A big factor behind these disappointing results is a long list of injuries.
When they won 2-1 at Burton in a run of three consecutive victories and five in seven, the starting XI was very different to what it is now.
Firstly, goalkeeper Mark Oxley has picked up a long-term injury – although in fairness to understudy Nathan Bishop, he has deputized reasonably well.
When Southend's Ben Coker suffered a horrendous knee injury, Sergio was right by his side ❤🐶⚽ pic.twitter.com/aUpJ7qsf1B
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) February 26, 2019
Secondly, speedy Cypriot Jason Demetriou and reliable technician Ben Coker have been arguably the most consistent full-backs in League One over the last four years – both have been ruled out for sustained periods since the trip to the Pirelli.
Harry Lennon joined from Charlton with the reputation of being an exciting, young, no-nonsense centre-back – but has only been able to start two league games – thankfully alternative centre-backs Michael Turner and Taylor Moore have been able to stay fit.
Academy graduate Dru Yearwood though, so impressive in the second half of last season with his lung-busting box-to-box runs, has only been able to start 16 out of a possible 35 league games due to a combination of injuries and suspension.
Then, Tom Hopper, whose dynamic movement had been so crucial to Southend’s attacking play, picked up an injury against Walsall in October which ruled him out for the campaign – since Hopper got injured in that 3-0 win over the Saddlers, no team has lost more League One games than Southend’s 12.
That’s before we consider that wide gem Sam Barratt, who generated so much excitement for his performances in pre-season and from the bench against Doncaster on day one, has not since kicked a ball.
These injuries have been massively disruptive to the Shrimpers; Ron Martin is admirably supportive of managers but he has not been able to back Chris Powell with a massive squad with two players of equal ability in each position.
Southend had gone for quality over quantity and that has back-fired due to ill-fortune.
That is not to say that Powell is immune to criticism – the decision to make Sam Mantom captain has not had the greatest impact on the team and there have been organisational issues in recent weeks.
However, injuries must be considered the main reason why the coastal club are struggling.
The Shrimpers have been behind at half-time in 14 of their 35 league games – only Bradford and Rochdale have trailed at the interval more often.
That trend could continue, given how much the initial feel-good atmosphere and sense of celebration is likely to benefit the hosts.
Tip: Blackpool to lead at half-time –
Read Gabriel’s League 2 preview here.