Strengthen squad to prove ambition at Southend United

Aerial challenge - Chris Barker goes up for a header with Exeter's Alan Gow, watched by Michael Timlin (left) and Ryan Cresswell

Aerial challenge - Chris Barker goes up for a header with Exeter's Alan Gow, watched by Michael Timlin (left) and Ryan Cresswell

First published in Sport by

THERE was plenty to be learned from Southend United’s disappointing 3-0 defeat at Exeter City on Saturday.

But, most of all, Blues’ biggest league reverse of the season so far highlighted the need for new players.

And it is simply imperative that boss Paul Sturrock is able to strengthen his squad before the end of the January transfer window.

Top of the shopping list has to be a defensive midfielder as it is no coincidence Southend have conceded eight goals in the three games since Tamika Mkandawire’s loan spell from Millwall came to an end.

Mkandawire’s immense reading of the game meant he was able to protect Blues’ back four, while also allowing the more attack-minded midfielders to push further forward.

His influence on the proceedings and the results since his departure have proved the importance of a holding midfield player and a replacement must be signed as soon as possible.

Dagenham & Redbridge’s Michael Spillane seems to be Southend’s number one target to fill the void and that deal needs to be completed as soon as possible as reinforcements are needed massively in the centre of the park.

A hamstring injury sustained by Marc Laird at Exeter City was as disappointing as the result and he will also be a huge miss during his absence.

Without him and Mkandawire Blues lack steel in a crucial area of the pitch and Laird’s departure enabled Exeter to get on top at the weekend.

Such a scenario again made a mockery of allowing Scott Donnelly to leave, especially as the talented midfielder, who was on loan from Aldershot, would not have cost much to keep.

But a weak midfield led to Exeter starting to dictate play on Saturday as other areas of the Southend side started to get exposed.

That again included down the left-hand side of the pitch, where opposing sides have been creating a number of their goals in recent weeks.

Two of the Grecians’ strikes came from down that side following in the footsteps of Burton, Gillingham, Brentford and Oxford, who have also found joy on that flank in Blues’ last few games.
As a result, something needs to be looked at — including more protection for the full-back — in order to shore up that side of the team.

On top of that, the goalkeeping situation remains an even bigger concern, with Paul Smith again looking shaky between the sticks against Exeter.

Any ball dropped in behind the Blues defence continues to cause confusion and uncertainty as the centre-backs do not know if Smith will leave his line.

This is increasingly becoming more of a problem and Smith should also have done better with the Grecians’ second goal on Saturday as Scot Bennett’s header slowly looped over him from a corner.

That error followed a series of other indifferent displays from Smith, and boss Sturrock must now decide whether or not to take the shot-stopper out of the side in place of Daniel Bentley which, at present, does seem to be the best option available.

But, above all else, it is essential transfers can soon be completed as Blues’ hectic schedule shows no signs of slowing down.

With a two-legged Johnstone’s Paint Trophy area final against Leyton Orient approaching, Southend will soon be faced with nine games in the space of just 35 days.

Saturday’s second half showing at Exeter proved that the same set of players cannot cope with such a demanding fixture list and reinforcements need to be recruited to ease the burden and maintain freshness.

The return of Britt Assombalonga from injury will help significantly and this can still be a real season to remember at Roots Hall.

Blues are in with a chance of playing at Wembley, taking on Chelsea and, most importantly, securing promotion as they still maintain a position in the play offs.

However, this time last term there were similar levels of excitement as Wembley, promotion and a tie at Liverpool were all a possibility, only for momentum to be lost and none of them to happen.

A repeat of that would be a travesty for everyone connected with the club.

But now is time for the powers that be to show their ambition by backing Sturrock and improving the chances of a successful conclusion to the current campaign.

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