Kevin Keen has been appointed as the new Colchester boss and, when you measure pre-match expectations against actual probability and potential psychological gains, he couldn’t really have asked for a better fixture to get his management career off to a flyer. Take the 19/10 available on the U’s beating arch-rivals Southend
in front of a near-capacity crowd at the Weston Homes.
It’s an eagerly-awaited contest - this will be the first meeting between the two clubs for nearly six years - and the cruelty of making both sets of fans wait 22 matches is offset by the prime-time scheduling. It’s a big occasion, one that transcends current form, which is just as well because the hosts couldn’t really be in worse shape on that front.
Defeat at Rochdale last weekend was Colchester’s seventh on the spin and plunged them to the bottom of the table with Keen watching on from the stands. The U’s have got themselves into a rut but the task is a simple one for the 48-year-old: plug the leaks at the back. There’s bags of attacking talent in the squad, scoring goals isn’t a problem.
Little as yet is known about Keen’s leadership credentials but he has the coaching background to believe he can make an immediate impact, having spent several years at West Ham, worked with the first team at Liverpool and served as assistant to Steve Clarke at West Brom and Reading. He has watched Colchester’s past three matches, and spent three days on the training ground trying to get some basic ideas across.
Southend arrive in great form but there’s ample scope for a setback. A resounding 4-1 victory over Bury last time out means the Shrimpers have taken 28 points from the last 14 matches, outstanding for a newly-promoted side. But that game was played on Friday night, enabling the squad to catch a flight to Dublin for their Christmas party.
Everyone deserves a blow-out at this time of year and it’s impossible to know which teams have overdone it more than others, making this a variable that’s too easily overlooked. However, when a club like Southend has been hard at it for nearly all of 2015 following promotion via the play-offs, there’s a fair chance the blow-out will serve as a full stop on any current momentum and it can be difficult to get going again.
Moving into the Championship, Cardiff appear to have accepted defeat in their attempts to keep Kenwyne Jones at the club, which raises further questions about the striker’s state of mind following a lazy performance in front of the television cameras at Birmingham. The Bluebirds are worth taking on at MK Dons.
Jones’ obvious lack of desire didn’t go unnoticed by the Sky commentary team at St Andrew’s but the Trinidad & Tobago international is unlikely to bust a gut in response to the criticism and risk injury at stadium:mk with a January move looking more than likely.
On that basis, Russell Slade might be inclined to drop him but punters should be aware that Cardiff’s record when deprived of their attacking focal point is rotten, just one win in nine matches. Furthermore, their shot ratio has taken a nosedive in recent weeks - down to just 44 per cent over the past ten matches.
It’s touch and go whether MK Dons have what it takes to stay in the division but the busy festive period might just suit a team with a possession-based philosophy as mental fatigue begins to take its toll on teams like Cardiff who have stretched themselves beyond their long-term capabilities.
With Sean Morrison injured for at least a month, Slade will be forced to break up an ever-present centre back partnership and pitch Bruno Manga with Matthew Connolly for the first time. It’s just another factor that helps to build the case for Milton Keynes at 19/10. The Dons were comfortable winners over Sheffield Wednesday in their last home game.
Meanwhile, Middlesbrough have taken what appears to be the first significant stride towards the title by stripping Brighton of their unbeaten record with a resounding televised win at the Amex but there were enough caveats behind that result to believe the Teessiders might be vulnerable to complacency in their next outing at Blackburn.
The manner of that win was bound to set tongues wagging but it seems to have been lost in the hyperbole that the Seagulls came into the contest on the back of two extremely taxing, highly-dramatic away games over the previous seven days. And outstanding though Boro were, their expert ability to effortlessly defend a lead taught us nothing new.
The first goal remains the be-all and end-all for Aitor Karanka’s men. Their success in Sussex means that, since the start of last season, 51 out of 60 matches have now gone the way of the team that broke the deadlock but Rovers always in with a shout of taking the first chance that comes their way, especially with someone like Jordan Rhodes sniffing around.