MARK O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) takes a look at Stevenage’s clash with Southend in the first leg of League Two’s play-off semi-final on Sunday.
Stevenage v Southend United | Sunday 18.35 | Sky Sports 1
How will Southend cope with the emotionally-draining and crushing experience of losing out on automatic promotion on the final day? The Shrimpers blew their chances when losing 3-1 at Morecambe – only their second defeat in 14 and the only goals they conceded in nine straight League Two matches.
Boss Phil brown is adamant the Essex club can use the pain as a motivational tool but I’m not ready to commit to the bandwagon just yet. It’s positive PR from the Southend boss and he’ll have been working overtime this week to try and reassure his players they are the real deal. So do they respond?
That magnificent defensive record looks exceptional on the face of it and of course deserves plenty of plaudits. However, there was a suspicion that Southend had been riding their luck of late with the formidable partnership of Cian Bolger and Adam Barrett in the heart of defence has helped protect goalkeeper Daniel Bentley’s incredibly run of clean sheets.
Only Shrewsbury conceded fewer goals than the Shrimpers tally of 38 but the visitors were outscored by 13 sides going forward – not particularly impressive from a side challenging for automatic promotion. Brown’s troops only netted two or more goals in a game twice in the final six weeks and I just get the impression their direct approach could be food and drink for Stevenage on Sunday evening.
Graham Westley’s hosts ended the campaign in decent nick with four victories from six and have enjoyed an excellent few months at their Lamex home. Six wins from eight on their own patch, including a 4-2 success over Southend, tallied nicely with their superb return of 15/23 regular season wins in front of their home fans.
The Hertfordshire club arrive having fallen to defeats in just two of their previous 17 and Westley’s demands that his side are fitter, faster and stronger than their opponents always ensures a competitive performance from the hosts. Stevenage only failed to score in nine games this season and I expect that excellent record in front of goal to continue.
Midfield mystro Dean Parrett is expected to be fit and with Charlie Lee marauding forward from deep plus the talent of Chris Beardsley, Tom Pett and Chris Whelpdale to call upon, Westley will know his team must grab a goal before heading to Roots Hall next week. Stevenage’s road record of W5-D9-L9 just isn’t good enough to rely upon.
I’m going to go against the 2014/15 play-off trends of away wins and back Stevenage to take a first leg lead with William Hill offering the best odds of 6/4 on Westley’s charges coming out on top.
Stevenage v Southend United – Stevenage to win (6/4 William Hill)