SOUTHEND United saw off Stockport County 3-0 in the first round of the FA Cup at Roots Hall on Saturday — but the game was far closer than the final scoreline suggested.
Two goals in the dying minutes of the match meant Blues’ margin of victory was fairly flattering at the final whistle.
But there was still plenty for Southend boss Paul Sturrock to be pleased about. Most satisfying of all for the Scotsman was arguably the return of Barry Corr to the starting line-up.
The Irish striker had gone 19 months without being named in the side after being hit by a serious knee injury and a slight groin niggle.
However, he finally returned to take on Stockport and again showed his importance to the team with a well-taken goal and solid performance.
Without Corr, Blues have no other targetman-type of striker and are unable to offer any kind of threat in the air in the final third of the pitch.
But his presence at the weekend again proved the problems which can be caused when a big forward is regularly able to do battle with opposing defenders.
For a start, the ball is more likely to stay in the final third of the pitch and other members of the team are also able to enjoy possession in far more dangerous areas.
And, with Corr currently still working his way back to full fitness and unable to play each week, it may well be worth bringing in a similar style of striker on loan. Corr was not the only one to make an impact on his return at the weekend though, as Michael Timlin was also incredibly influential in the midfield.
Timlin helped to create his side’s first two goals against the Blue Square Premier visitors and also seems able to get more out of those around him in the centre of the park.
It is certainly no coincidence that Southend have failed to win any of the four matches Timlin has missed so far this season and Blues will now be hoping their key players, like him, can remain free of further injury problems.
However, despite those positives and the end result, there were still areas of concern for Blues at the weekend.
The defence was particularly shaky in the first half and was lucky not to be punished for some kamikaze moments.
Behind them, Paul Smith did not exert too much confidence between the sticks either, but this could well be down to not having a settled back four.
Sturrock has regularly been forced to chop and change three members of the team’s rearguard this season, with Mark Phillips, Luke Prosser and Anthony Straker all dropping in and out of the side.
Chris Barker has had to switch between left back and centre-back and you sense Blues will only begin to record a run of good results once the whole side becomes more settled.
Sturrock must now also find a way to incorporate new loan signing Tamika Mkandawire into the team and find what he feels to be his strongest starting 11.
Right now, the team building appears to still be very much work in progress with few players regularly staying in the side.
But all that will need to change if Blues are to work their way into the race for promotion and it will need to alter quickly too as they are about to embark on a very testing run of fixtures.
Three of their next four games will be played away from home as they visit Bristol Rovers, Torquay United and AFC Wimbledon in quick succession.
Their only match at Roots Hall during that time is against high flying Port Vale and the outcome of those games will give a clearer indication of how strong the current Southend side actually is and what may be achievable for them this season.