Former league leaders Southend United will travel to Home Park this Saturday as clear favourites, sitting 20 points above the relegation candidates.
The promotion hopefuls however, have lost their last two games and were seemingly demolished 1-4 by Swindon Town on Tuesday, from which the Greens should take heart. Argyle sunk back into the relegation zone last Saturday as a dreadful performance at Port Vale saw a late goal condemn them to defeat, which combined with a with for Dagenham and Redbridge, sent them back into the drop zone.
Much had been expected of the Pilgrims after rising out of the relegation places after positive results against high flying Burton Albion and Crawley Town but the 460 strong Green Army left bitterly dissapointed on a freezing cold day in the midlands.
The Green’s keeper Jake Cole kept out Port Vale for as long as he did. After Argyle’s only notable effort of the whole game, a Paul Wotton free kick which was saved, Cole denied Vale captain Marc Richards with his fingertips when it looked the skipper was set to bury the ball in the back of the Argyle net.
As the second half progressed Argyle dropped deeper and deeper as the Port Vale wave swept on. Manager Carl Fletcher must have decided to shut up shop and play for the goalless draw, this however did not go to plan as Tom Pope swept home for Port Vale from twenty-five yards to send the home fans into raptures.
Things did not go well for Southend in their last match either though.
In what was predicted to be a close game between two of the promotion candidates at Roots Hall, Southend became the latest victims of Paolo Di Canio’s Swindon side.
The game was far from close and by all accounts Swindon dominated from start to finish. 4-1 was the final score with Matt Ritchie, Jonathon Smith, Joe Devera and Billy Bodin scoring for the visitors. Jean-Paul Kalala’s strike for the Shrimpers proved to be only a small consolation on a terrible night for Southend.
Argyle manager Carl Flecther will be desperate to take something from this game after the Port Vale result and will view this as a good time to play Southend after they have conceded six in their last two games.
However I feel he will have to be very wary of a backlash from Southend after the Swindon result. Paul Sturrock will have been far from impressed and will expect his side to defeat the Devon club he got promoted all but twice. However, with Argyle having the home advantage things might not be quite so simple for Southend, the Pilgrims have lost only twice at home since Fletcher took over the managerial reigns back in September.
Crawley assistant manager Paul Raynor even recently commented on the Home Park atmopshere, saying that he thinks the crowd inside the ground swing the referee to their advantage.
For Southend, a defeat against Argyle will cover grounds not ventured into this season, they have not lost three on the bounce yet this season and Sturrock will be keen to make sure they do not fall to defeat and keep up the pressure on Cheltenham, who are currently sitting top of the league.
He will also be keen to make sure that his side do not slip to a poor result against another of the division’s lesser teams. In recent months Southend somehow failed to beat Dagenham and Bristol Rovers, even losing to Bradford. All three teams are looking over their shoulders as they are perilously close to te relegation zone.
After the dismal performance against Port Vale it is highly likely we will see a changed side line up against Southend this weekend, espeically as new signings have been bought in. Striker Juvhel Tsoumou has joined on loan from Preston North End until the end of the season and will give the Pilgrims some much needed height up front.
Burnley forward Alex MacDonald has also signed a month long loan and I assume he will look to impress Fletcher for an extension. Central midfielder Conor Hourihane is back from suspension but did not feature against Port Vale. Nick Chadwick looks likely to play after playing 60 minutes last saturday and Warren Feeney should also be available for selection after being ill for the Greens game against Port Vale.
A change to the Southend side that was battered against Swindon is also likely as Sturrock looks to stop the rot. Interestingly enough Southend’s top scorer this season is Liam Dickinson with eleven goals. The striker had signed for Argyle in the summer last year but was with the Pilgrims for little over a week as he was released from his contract just days after signing it, saying personal reasons were his reason for his departure.
This is a very tough one for me to predict as both teams will be desperate to win for two totally different reasons. Argyle might fancy their chances after Southend’s last two results, but to take anything from this game I think that Argyle simply have to score in the first 20 minutes of the game, then we might see some nerves creep into the Southend team.
If that doesnt happen then we will likely see Southend settle into their smooth passing game and they will inevitably eventually break the Argyle defence down.
Sadly, I can’t see the Green’s getting anything from this game and I have my fingers crossed that Dagenham and Northampton both fail to take points from their games too.