League One Preview: Vital Essex Derby

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Kevin Keen – www.bbc.co.uk

Here are The Football Lab’s predictions for the weekends games in League One. Two of the divisions best defences go head-to-head when Bradford host Burton, while goal-shy Rochdale play an improving Crewe Alexandra. Kevin Keen has his first game in charge of Colchester in an Essex Derby against in-form Southend.

Bradford v Burton

Burton Albion have just appointed Nigel Clough as their new manager. The former Derby boss’ first game in charge resulted in a 3-3 draw with Doncaster, as loanee Mark Duffy scored a dramatic late equalizer. Duffy was not particularly valued by Gary Rowett at Birmingham, but he is a very quick, skilful, exciting winger and has been superb for Burton this season. The former Doncaster man has publicly said that he hopes his loan spell is extended and while Birmingham fans might not be too happy about that, you have to commend his desire to play, rather than sit on the bench.

Bradford could do with a player in Duffy’s mould. They have a very solid, industrious team but little in the way of attacking sparkle, and that is the one thing hindering their play-off charge. From a defensive perspective, the Bantams are equally as good as Burton. Many were fearful that the loss of Aaron Davies in the summer would disrupt their progress but in his absence, West Ham loanee Reece Burke has formed a stable centre-back partnership with Rory McArdle.

New Burton boss Nigel Clough built a very energetic side at Derby County and helped develop a lot of good young players there, including Will Hughes. At Sheffield United, he was criticized for being too negative, notably starting two holding midfielders in home games against the lesser teams. Clough is a manager that can struggle to meet expectations when given the chance to spend big, but he can get the best out of limited resources.

Burton are a club that tend to thrive on a siege mentality and that might suit Clough. He spent a long period of time there as a player and in the early stages of his managerial career, which should endear him to the Brewers faithful. Away win.

Colchester v Southend

Southend United have won eight of their last 14 games, the most recent of which ending in a 4-1 triumph over Bury. The Shrimpers have one of the best goalkeepers in the division in Daniel Bentley, a sound defence, and going forward, they have goals all over the park. If Phil Brown’s side could make the play-offs, it would be one of the most impressive achievements in the Football League, especially with big budgeted clubs like Sheffield United and Bradford in a similar position.

Southend now face an Essex derby against fierce rivals Colchester United, who currently prop up the league table. The U’s have conceded 55 goals already this term, leaving manager Kevin Keen with no doubt what he needs to work on in his first few training sessions. The advantage Keen has is that it is easier to walk into a team that is conceding too many goals and re-organize it, rather than build confidence in a goal-shy outfit. A manager can do a lot of work on the defensive side of the game and plan the shape of his side precisely, whereas if you have to improve the attack, the task is normally more complex and abstract.

Former caretaker boss Wayne Brown had rejected the job, saying ‘I wouldn’t be giving myself the best opportunity to be a successful manager’ which may not have been particularly encouraging for the players to hear. However, in some ways, it is a good thing that chairman Robbie Cowling has gone for an external appointment, contrary to what many predicted. Keen might know people at the club due to his West Ham connections, but he will assess the team with a fresh pair of eyes. The players know that they can make a first impression on him, which could make a difference.

If you were to look purely at statistics, Southend would be the team to fancy here. However, the fact that this is a derby game, that Colchester are at home and have a new manager in charge gives them an edge too. This blog predicts a draw.

Rochdale v Crewe

Over the past few years, Rochdale have gleaned a reputation for being one of the most entertaining, attacking, free-scoring teams in the bottom two divisions of the Football League. This season, however, they have scored just 28 goals in 22 games and 10 in their last eight. Whether the team is not creating enough chances, whether the goalscoring quality is not there or whether the club is feeling the long-term effects of selling Matt Done in January, is up for debate. The most likely conclusion is that Rochdale’s problems are a combination of all these things. Manager Keith Hill believes that performances from some individuals, notably Donal McDermott, need to be more consistent.

It is easy to look at Dale’s form and be critical but the flip side is that the club is doing ok to compete at this level with the budget it has. The team competing so strongly last year – and perhaps local rivals Bury coming up and doing well – has put more pressure on Hill and the team to push for the top six. In reality, to be nine points above the drop zone is not bad going.

Rochdale’s financial resources are not dissimilar to those of Crewe Alexandra, who they play next. Steve Davis’ side are continuing their usual habit of not starting to actually play until October, when they were five points adrift this term. However, they have shown signs of promise in recent weeks and are now only two points off safety. 37-year-old striker Ryan Lowe has joined the club on a short-term deal and has made an impact, with an improvement in Alex’s goalscoring form.

Crewe are better on the road than the bookies give them credit for. They have scored two or more away goals on four occasions this season, they also won 1-0 at Shrewsbury and got a credible 0-0 draw at leaders Burton in September. Away win.