MARK O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) takes a look at the League Two semi-final second leg play-off clash between Southend and Stevenage on Thursday night.
Southend United v Stevenage | Thursday 19.45 | Sky Sports 5
There were no tears but there was a whole lot of blood. And sweat. But mainly blood. And stiches. The sickening head clash between Southend midfielder Michael Timlin and Stevenage skipper Bira Dembele dominated the headlines of an attritional first leg on Sunday evening with the score locked at 1-1.
It was probably a fair result on reflection but as someone who backed Stevenage to take a first leg lead to Roots Hall, I can’t deny I felt more uneasy than comfortable throughout the 90 minutes. The Shrimpers seemed the more likely to create a goalscoring opportunity and Barry Corr’s leveller after Dean Parrett’s beautiful 25-yarder was just rewards for their positive performance.
Neither Timlin nor Dembele are likely to get the green light for the return leg and Phil Brown’s hosts are also sweating on the fitness of skipper John White whilst Ryan Leonard and Will Atkinson are also receiving treatment. Stevenage, with just two defeats in 18 now, have no other injury concerns. So where’s the smart money heading?
The Shrimpers won just under half of their regular season fixtures at Roots Hall but where Brown’s troops excelled was in defence, leaking just nine goals in those 23 outings on home soil. The Essex boys also bagged wins in seven of their last eight League Two matches, keeping seven clean sheets.
Stevenage have shown their mettle across the past five months and have picked up draws in five of their last seven on the road, including at champions Burton as well as fellow play-off contenders Wycombe. However, I just can’t dismiss their return of W0-D5-L6 at top-half teams and that feeling that they have just missed their chance in the first leg.
Southend showed great mental strength to bounce back from their final day disappointment and at even-money (SkyBet) look a decent value bet to seal a place in the final with victory on Thursday night.
Southend United v Stevenage – Southend United to win (1/1 SkyBet)