Southend's automatic promotion hopes have taken a bashing in recent weeks, leaving boss Paul Sturrock to blame their wretched home form, but we think the problem might be something more general and we're willing to oppose the Shrimpers when they travel to re-born Bristol Rovers this weekend.
The Essex boys have only triumphed in two out of their last ten outings at Roots Hall but we also believe their away record has been given a leg-up by a rather convenient schedule. Seven of their last eight wins on the road have come against sides in the bottom nine, a sequence interspersed by fairly straightforward defeats at Cheltenham, Shrewsbury, Aldershot and Morecambe.
That's not to discredit them for having the division's best away record, 37 points from 19 games is a magnificent haul. You can only beat what's put in front of you and when Southend hit the road, they pick off the makeweights with incredible consistency. However, Bristol Rovers are no longer makeweights under Mark McGhee and they look a solid wager at 11/10 on the draw no bet market.
The Pirates might not have much riding on this game in broader terms but McGhee has made it abundantly clear to his new troops that he won't tolerate any slacking while he formulates his plans for a promotion tilt next season and they've been going about their business in a thoroughly professional manner in recent weeks.
Rovers have tasted defeat just twice in 13 league matches since Paul Buckle was given the boot at the turn of the year and the ongoing sense of debt to the supporters for such a poor start to the campaign has seen them rack up a six-match unbeaten run at the Memorial Stadium, with three wins and just two goals conceded.
Meanwhile, Morecambe will probably look back on their season with disappointment after a solid start had them occupying an automatic promotion place at the start of November. The Shrimps are currently 12th, some ten points adrift of the play-offs, but they can still demonstrate their capacity to match the big boys with victory over Shrewsbury at 5/2.
Indeed, while the six-match form guide shows a couple of embarrassing defeats at home to Dagenham and Hereford, those matches were both immediately preceded by victories over Southend and Cheltenham at almost identical prices to those available this weekend, while they also frustrated 1/2 shots Crawley in their own backyard prior to that.
So the message appears to be clear: Jim Bentley's men are available for parties and special functions but they don't get out of bed for peanuts, not at this time of year.
The case for this bet is only enhanced by a mere glance at Shrewsbury's away record. Graham Turner's men boast the only unbeaten home record in the Football League but nine defeats in 19 on the road illustrates why their dash to snatch an automatic spot and avoid the nerve-shredding tension of the play-offs is likely to go down to the wire once again.
2pts Bristol Rovers to beat Southend (draw no bet) at 11/10 (Paddy Power)
1pt Morecambe to beat Shrewsbury at 5/2 (Boylesports)Reuse content