Fleetwood fail to impress on turbulent trip to Southend
Joey Barton has plenty of work to do
Sky Bet League One
Southend 1-0 Fleetwood
The story of the match
Fleetwood lost in Sky Bet League One for the only the second time this season but they could have no complaints about the Roots Hall result. Southend's Theo Robinson pounced on an error by former Shrimpers centre-back Cian Bolger to cross for Simon Cox, who tapped the winning goal into an empty net.
The visitors hit the post through Paddy Madden early in the second half but failed to manage an attempt on target despite forcing a flurry of late corners and their miserable afternoon was complete when substitute James Wallace saw red for a second booking.
Joey Barton started with a 4-4-2 formation but his team were being outnumbered in the middle by Southend's 3-4-1-2, so 30 minutes in he switched to a 4-3-3 with Kyle Dempsey tucking inside and Madden going wide.
Lone striker Ched Evans complained to Barton that he needed help after being left isolated against Southend's three centre-backs and Fleetwood failed to get any attacking thrust out wide.
They went back to a 4-4-2 after Southend scored and then moved to a back three late on in a disjointed performance from the Cod Army, who had arrived in Essex on a seven-match unbeaten league run but provided little for their 51 travelling supporters to cheer.
Jason Holt attempted to get on the ball and make Town tick, but it was substitute Ross Wallace who brought a touch of class to proceedings when he came on for his debut. The experienced wide man could be an important player once he is up to full fitness.
Barton cut a calm figure on the touchline for the majority of the match and refused to blame outside influences for a poor performance, but it is worth pointing out that Fleetwood's flight was cancelled so they had tackled a ten-hour trip to Essex on Friday.
They were missing Craig Morgan from the heart of their defence as well as fellow injury victims Chris Long and Conor McAleny, while Wes Burns was suspended. Left-back James Husband pulled out through sickness and Barton later explained a bug had swept through the camp.
Evans and Dean Marney passed late fitness tests but Marney was withdrawn at half-time. Top goalscorer Evans barely got a kick against the aggressive Michael Turner and maybe there will be better times to judge Barton in his first managerial post.
However, they still lost individual battles all over the pitch and failed to show much in the way of a philosophy. Keeper Alex Cairns took a few risks under pressure and was partly culpable for the goal.
Evans is the obvious one and Fleetwood seem to attack from wide, looking to supply the Welsh forward with crosses, but nobody breaks centrally from midfield. They have scored 13 league goals this season and 12 have come via the usual front four of Evans, Madden, Burns and Ashley Hunter, with reserve centre-back Bolger the other to notch.
Bolger will always be a threat with his height at set-pieces and was a target from corners but he will soon lose his place to Morgan.
View from the camp
Barton said: "I think the game was just like the weather - damp, miserable, and very disappointing. It is a game that should have finished 0-0. We have given Southend the points."
Chairman Andy Pilley has already said there is no pressure on Barton to get promotion this season. That is just as well as the Cod Army are 9-1 to go up, which highlights how much work still needs to be done.
On this evidence a top-half finish would be an achievement but it's worth bearing in mind they had injury, suspension and travel problems which may have contributed to the performance.
Four of Town's five away matches have produced under 2.5 goals and that looks an avenue to exploit in future. They try not to get hit on the counter but lack imagination in midfield.
Southend's performances have been better than their results this season and should be rising from 16th place as they enter a phase of comfortable fixtures combined with the return of Michael Kightly, Mike Oxley and Dru Yearwood.
Turner wins most things in the air and fellow centre-back Taylor Moore, on loan from Bristol City having carved out a big reputation when coming through at Lens, looks comfortable on the ball.
Moore is suited to playing in a back three, as are the converted full-backs into wing-backs and robust central midfielder Timothee Dieng was the standout performer. Expect Southend to kick on.
Southend 3-4-1-2: Stockdale; White, Turner, Moore; Demetriou, Mantom, Dieng, Coker; Cox; Robinson (Klaas 78), Hopper (McCoulsky 90).
Fleetwood 4-4-2: Cairns; Jones (Grant 82), Bolger, Eastham, Coyle; Hunter, Marney (J Wallace h-t), Holt, Dempsey (R Wallace 60); Madden, Evans.
Next three league matches - Southend: Wycombe (a), Burton (a), Oxford (h); Fleetwood: Barnsley (h), Wycombe (h), Doncaster (a).
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