The month of August has gone and passed us, which means the first month of the new season has finished, giving us just a slight indication of how the rest of the campaign might plan out. In this article, I will be reviewing Southend United’s start as they begin life back in League 1.
After winning promotion in the most dramatic way at Wembley, Southend fans remained hopeful that they can carry on that momentum into the new season, however it hasn’t quite worked out that way. Phil Brown’s side sits just one place above the relegation zone on three points, struggling for goals and still looking for their first win.
With the transfer window closing the other day, it meant the Shrimpers have kept hold of their star goalkeeper Daniel Bentley, who was on the receiving end of failed bids from Queens Park Rangers and Hull. This could be massive for the Essex club, as Brown hails the 22-year-old as “one of the best goalkeepers in the league”. Along with Bentley, Southend also managed to retain the services of key players, like Ben Coker and Michael Timlin, from their promotion-winning season last time around. However, in what was quite a shock move, they had to say goodbye to their top goalscorer Barry Corr, who has now joined League 2 outfit Cambridge United. Corr notched up 50 goals in 155 league appearances for Southend, and he has already hit the ground running with his new club. To replace Corr, Brown has brought in two experienced players in Noel Hunt and David Mooney, as well as bringing play-off hero Joe Pigott back to the club on loan with the option to buy. Other summer signings include Anthony Wordsworth, Stephen McLaughlin, Glen Rea on loan from Brighton and Luke O’Neill.
Southend kicked off their campaign away at Fleetwood Town, in a game which saw Brown name a bizarre line-up: he gave starts to Kevan Hurst and Will Atkinson, as well as Myles Weston playing up front, which meant Timlin, David Worrall and Hunt were all on the bench. And the first half wasn’t what he had his mind, as The Blues were 1-0 down thanks to an unstoppable strike from debutant Declan McManus. In an array of changes during the second half, Southend managed to salvage a draw courtesy of substitute David Worrall’s equaliser in the 84th minute. As the final whistle blew, a point each was probably a fair result with both sides now turning their attention to the League Cup.
Championship Brighton & Hove Albion were next up for the Shrimpers at the historic Roots Hall setting, and the home side can be proud of their efforts, but that lacking killer instinct in the final third cost them the game. Kazenga Lua Lua was played through on goal by Sam Baldock and he smartly tucked the ball past Bentley to give the Seagulls an injury-time winner, sending them through to the next round of the Capital One Cup. If Southend are to play like that and if they are to improve in front of goal, they can easily beat the drop and stay in League 1.
Next up for the seaside club was Walsall, who are currently sitting pretty at the top of the table. Spearheaded by the lethal Tom Bradshaw, the Saddlers have a strong squad that could indeed surprise us and win promotion to the Championship come the end of the season. And it didn’t take them long to score past Southend, with no other than Bradshaw on the scoresheet. In complete control and not allowing the Blues a sniff at goal, Dean Smith’s Walsall doubled their advantage just after the break with Sam Mantom shooting from the edge of the box past the helpless Dan Bentley. It was a very poor performance from Southend, which brought a cluster of boos amongst the stands of Roots Hall.
Although, in an attempt to bounce back from their disappointing game against Walsall, Southend traveled to the Keepmoat Stadium to face a solid Doncaster Rovers team on a Wednesday night. It was a much-improved performance from the Shrimpers with them having the best chances of the game, yet were still unable to find the back of the net, as it finished as a goalless draw. Timlin came awfully close to snatching a needed win for the visitors, but his shot, which was heading towards the top right-hand corner, was tipped over by Thorsten Stuckmann. So it meant Brown’s side had failed to score again with the Southend faithful becoming weary of his poor excuses to not scoring.
Another difficult game saw Southend take on Swindon Town under the sun, but it was another defeat at home and another game without a goal. The performance was there again; the firepower going forward wasn’t, as Noel Hunt was often left isolated operating up front on his own. The Shrimpers, however, really should have taken the lead when Hunt intelligently headed the ball down to Jack Payne, but his effort went wide of the left post. He was made to pay for that miss when Fabien Robert rounded off a swift Swindon attack to score his third goal in as many games. Myles Weston also came close to scoring for Southend towards the end of the game, but his header was brilliantly saved by Lawrence Vigouroux in the Robins goal. It was the same old story for the Blues – no goal (or win) to match their solid performance.
Southend United’s final game in the opening month of the season was staged at the Ricoh Arena, home to Coventry City. The Sky Blues would prove to be another tough side Phil Brown was to face, as the match ended as another draw away from home. However, this time his team managed to score twice – it was a long time coming! Coventry took the lead through Reda Johnson, but two quickfire goals from the away side put Southend in front for the first time this season. Hunt got his head on a Ben Coker cross for his first goal at his new club, and David Mooney then converted from the penalty spot after Timlin was fouled in the box. Yet, Southend still couldn’t put away other opportunities.
Coventry themselves were awarded a penalty, but Bentley in the Southend goal got low to his left to prevent Jim O’Brien from scoring. The home side, though, did succeed in finding an equaliser when Sam Ricketts headed home. Bentley was once again there to stop Coventry from winning the game, in what was a fantastic display from the shot-stopper. The game ended 2-2, which took Southend up to 20th, moving above rivals Colchester United.
A slow start from Southend still means we are yet to see them pick up their first win, but as the performances are there and the players are playing well, a win surely is just around the corner.
After fans complaining about Brown’s naivety to play two strikers, he finally did versus Coventry and look what happened; they scored! So hopefully he can continue to use that same formation, which definitely works, and Southend should be fine in their attempt to stay a League 1 side next season.