Sturrock to come unstuck
Southend missed out on the opportunity to break a club record unbeaten run in midweek and now they could be about to lose their grip on top spot in the basement when they travel to Cheltenham this weekend.
The Shrimpers are 12 without defeat in the league and they were aiming to make it 18 in all competitions when they hosted Swindon in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy on Tuesday but Paolo Di Canio's men fought back from a goal down to triumph at Roots Hall. Now another set of Robins could be ready to unpick Paul Sturrock's men as things get complicated in the run up to Christmas.
The Essex club have been rock-solid reliable for most of autumn but now the winter is shaping up to be a harsh one with standards slipping in recent weeks and we can't say the midweek setback came as much of a surprise in light of a couple of laboured performances against Dagenham and Bristol Rovers in recent league outings.
Besides the obvious loss of momentum, there's also a case for saying that Southend might be the more leg-weary of the two teams with their FA Cup participation over the past few weeks involving two replays against League One opposition, one against Preston a couple of weeks ago and the other against Oldham to follow this game three days after this game.
Sturrock has managed to keep the Shrimpers firing on all fronts by mixing up his team selection but now the cup takes on a whole new dimension with a money-spinning trip to Anfield now known to be the prize for whoever progresses in the return at Boundary Park. Suddenly the priorities are not so clear and Sturrock has a few selection headaches on the horizon.
Cheltenham also have their own big day out to look forward to after pulling Tottenham away in the third round but they already have that game in the bank and it should enable them to focus better on the job here as they bid to close the gap at the top.
The Whaddon Road outfit are currently four points adrift of their visitors but they appear to be in irresistible form right now with 12 wins in the last 14 matches and odds of 17/10 about the home win with Bet365 have huge appeal because we consider them to be at least the equal of Southend in terms of the standards being set at this moment.
Cheltenham will be without Darryl Duffy after their chief poacher was sent off in the win at Luton last weekend but Mark Yates' men have shown themselves to more than capable of coping with enforced absences in this run with keeper Jack Butland and defender Luke Garbutt ineligible to participate in the cup under the terms of their respective loan deals.
Both players will return this weekend and those two positives should comfortably outweigh the negative of Duffy being sidelined.
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