Any thoughts of Saturday’s improved display (and win) proving the launching pad for a sustained improvement in confidence and results were pretty much blown away tonight. Up against more determined opposition than Yeovil, despite (perhaps because of) their respective positions, a dip in work rate and effectiveness from the start and the unhappy knack of conceding goals were enough to produce a night which got progressively worse and ended with the sparse remnants of a crowd expressing their frustration (in truth there were far too many, at least around me, more intent on voicing their unwanted criticism from the start – so much for contributing to a ‘fortress Valley’) and the players trudging off with heads bowed.
There needs to be some sense of perspective. The game on Saturday could have turned out as bad if Yeovil had scored first, as well they might have done but for Elliot. And tonight could have turned out as well had we scored first – as we should have done. Instead when the ball dropped to Racon in the box he miscued horribly, they moved upfield and with us struggling to get back a deflected shot from outside the area put them one up. That doesn’t excuse the performance. We started the game with the same level of drive that we finished on Saturday, which is fine if you’re 2-0 up. And through the night players who had good games against Yeovil – in particular Racon and Reid – proved far less effective, Bailey’s distribution again fell below standard, while Mooney failed to convert the chances that came his way, looking like he lacks a real predator’s instincts inside the box (he was denied once by a superb defensive tackle, but the ball should have been dispatched before the guy had the chance to get there). The pitch – which is in a worse state than I’ve seen for years – didn’t help, but it didn’t stop Brighton passing the ball well. And the substitutions made by Parkinson around the time that they scored their second only contributed to the general descent, with none of the gloom lifted by Sodje(A)’s stoppage time consolation strike.
For good reason the line-up was the same as on Saturday. But Brighton had the better of the early stages as we struggled to get going. There didn’t seem much of a goal-scoring threat, although their left winger clearly had the beating of Richardson for pace, which caused problems. We did seem to be working our way into the game through the half, with Jackson getting forward to good effect down our left, and we started to create some openings. But the best of them was the one that fell to Racon – after the ball was delivered from the left, an attempted overhead kick came to nothing but it dropped kindly for him and that should have been the lead. Instead within a minute we were one down. And there was additional disruption as Burton went of injured (a hamstring?), with Sodje(A) coming on.
At the break the mood was downbeat but far from desperate. In the second half Brighton seemed more content to defend what they had and we were dominating possession, although with both Sam and Reid not able to make much happen down the flanks – Sam did make intelligent runs but the balls played to him were invariably overhit, behind him, or got stuck in the mud – the chances were infrequent. But chances there were. Sodje poked one just wide, Mooney shot over from a tight angle, and the one that looked like being converted by him saw the defender’s block. Criminally we were to concede the second that all but killed off the game. It was another strike from outside the box, with their guy given far too much time and space to consider his options.
After that the crowd was happy to intensify the criticism and the substitutions caused more confusion than anything else. First Richardson was withdrawn for McKenzie, then Jackson for Sodje(S), the plan seemingly being to play a sort of 3-4-3 involving wingers that didn’t track back. It was perhaps a bold move by Parkinson, but with Brighton now all behind the ball all it meant was that we had to hit it long. Sodje(A) did cause them problems in the air but there was such a lack of coordination up front that there was no real end result, until the game was over and he did get on the end of a lofted through ball. Ten minutes earlier and it could have made a difference, but this was a night when nothing went right.
After Saturday’s game we pretty much knew the team for the next one. Just what changes Parkinson can make for Southend is something for him to ponder. A return for Shelvey and Semedo in a 4-5-1 has to be one option, especially if Burton is out for a while (although with him missing from the bench for the past couple of games is he out of sorts?). Sure we need a win, but at the moment the priority has to be a clean sheet. Just what he can do to lift the players’ confidence and team spirit is another matter. Me? I’ve got tonight to sleep on whether to make the trip.
Elliot: 7/10. Didn’t have a great deal to do and although both goals were from shots outside the area he can’t be blamed for either (especially the first, which took a deflection).
Richardson: 6/10. Beaten for pace by their winger early on but got more of a grip on him as the game progressed before being taken off.
Jackson: 7/10. Having been (rightly) chastised for giving him a fairly low mark for Saturday, I thought he was our best player in the first half, especially with his contribution going forward.
Llera: 8/10. He played well and irrespective of the result deserves a good mark.
Dailly: 7/10. No complaints, Brighton were generally contained in and around our box.
Reid: 5/10. As ineffective tonight as he was impressive on Saturday. Some wayward crossing, especially when pushed onto his right foot, and equally wayward shooting.
Bailey: 5/10. Seemed a little jaded and again passed the ball badly. Unlike Saturday this time it mattered.
Racon: 5/10. Missed the chance of the game and was outmuscled in midfield; his frustration at it all was clear well before the end.
Sam: 6/10. No decisive contribution and seemed to annoy the crowd by not making space, but often this was because he was timing a run and the pass to him was poor.
Mooney: 5/10. Could have been the match-winner as the second-half chances largely fell to him. But he didn’t take them.
Burton: 6/10. After his improved display on Saturday, our generally sluggish start to the game and his early departure left it unclear whether the better contribution would have been maintained.
Subs: Sodje(A) – 7/10 (looked ungainly but did cause problems when we were going long, and did score); McKenzie – 5/10 (no real contribution other than getting caught offside); Sodje(S) – 7/10 (no on for long enough for a real mark and the game was effectively over by the time he appeared).