The Trotters have struggled to score this season and face a stern test at Roots Hall against a team who have lost one of their last 18 matches

20 January ~ Southend United supporters could be forgiven for holding a bit of a grudge against today’s visitors to Roots Hall. When Bolton parted company with Neil Lennon in March last year it was widely anticipated that Shrimpers manager Phil Brown would be the man for the job.

Indeed Brown himself, a former Bolton captain with more than 300 appearances for the club, did little to dispel the rumours. Amid the apparent uncertainty, a push for the League One play-off positions petered out as Southend won just one of their last ten games, and the season ended in disappointment for both clubs.

As it turned out, Brown stayed where he was as relegated Wanderers turned to Phil Parkinson, and both men have been making a decent fist of things since. Bolton have been flying high all season, only slipping to third place when the FA Cup presented a momentary distraction. Wanderers’ success has been built on a defence that has conceded just 19 goals in 26 games, with David Wheater and Mark Beevers forming a formidable pairing in the middle of a back four.

Things haven’t been going quite as well at the other end, however, particularly away from the Macron, where Bolton have managed just 13 goals from 12 games. Josh Vela has excelled in a more advanced role this season but struggles to get forward away from home, while three of Zach Clough’s four away goals have come from the penalty spot. Much of Bolton’s attacking ambition revolves around Gary Madine, who leads the line well enough given adequate service and support, but rarely looks like getting on the scoresheet himself.

The Shrimpers time-wasted their way to an undeserved point at the Macron in September but can be expected to show a bit more ambition on their own patch and in better form. Frank Nouble’s arrival from Gillingham will lend muscular support to the in-form Simon Cox, and the division’s meanest defence can expect a stern examination.

With loanee Sammy Ameobi’s return for the second half of the season still stymied by continuing transfer restrictions, the Bolton attack is in danger of looking a bit one dimensional, and might struggle to outscore a Southend side who have lost just one of their last 18 games. February promises to be a tough month for the Trotters, though, and with Sheffield United and Scunthorpe showing little sign of slowing down, points are already starting to become imperative. Jon Callow

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