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Southend United manager Paul Sturrock: Why our league campaign has not gone to plan
THIS season, league wise, has not gone to plan for several reasons.
Injuries to key players have been a major factor.
With Michael Timlin’s league ending injury, Mark Phillips, Chris Barker, Marc Laird and Gavin Tomlin all having long lay-offs and Tamika Mkandawire returning to Millwall after his loan ended it meant all departments of the team were affected.
And I defy any team to handle the loss of six starting players and keep churning out results.
Adding to this was the six week injury suffered by Britt Assombalonga and all these problems necessitated adding loan players to our squad.
Temporary signings always take time to fit into the team and while some were successful some were also disappointing.
But never in my long career have I seen so many injuries and this has meant our preparation for games have often been disjointed waiting for the result of a fitness test even on the day of a game.
I know the importance of having a settled side and know that if my first 11 had been available to me all season then we would not be in the league position we currently find ourselves in.
At the start of the season we also revamped our squad after discussions with the chairman and the board when a more pleasing to the eye style was decided on.
Players were signed to fulfil that aim and I think most supporters would agree that there were some fantastic performances at the beginning and middle of the season when the squad was relatively healthy and playing on decent pitches.
But, as the weather turned and respect was given by other managers in terms of the systems and style changes they used when playing us, especially at Roots Hall, results at home got harder and harder to achieve, especially with the selection problems we had.
As a manager I look and study each game to see if I could have influenced the game in any way that would have benefitted us.
And I know now that at home I should have stuck to my principles on style of football and played more like last season.
Teams sit in when we play at home so is difficult to penetrate playing a passing game, which means we can be counter attacked effectively and quickly which has been evident in the results we’ve had in the last week.
I’m now kicking myself because I should have realised this earlier and not persevered with it.
I should have changed back to our winning formula we had at home late last season and, while my realisation has maybe come too late, we will keep on battling for the play offs until it’s mathematically impossible.
On top of that, another factor to take in to the last month’s results is the amount of games most of these players have played.
If you check Wikipedia you’ll see that most of our players have averaged about 25 games a year during their career and on Saturday we play our 52nd game of the season.
Confidence also comes from winning games which at home we have not done regularly enough, meaning there is also a disgruntled fan-base.
However, I believe the supporters have been fantastic because they have vocally vented their disappointment at the right time, which is half time and full time, and I can’t thank them enough for getting behind the team in difficult circumstances.
We’ve also had a great run in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy this season.
But if you asked me if that has been a distraction to the league battle then the answer is yes.
You only have to check out Swansea’s and Bradford’s form to see how it affects you.
Phillips and Barker were also patched up for the second leg against Orient second leg and have Phillips hasn’t played since.
Barker lasted about half an hour against Wycombe in the next game but has then been out and we’re talking about two seasoned professionals here who are sorely missed.
Having said all that, the JPT final is going to be a great occasion and we’re all really looking forward to it, especially with so many tickets having been sold.
But there are nine points to play for before the final and confidence is needs to built up during those matches.
We could also do with a couple of injury free weeks, to enable continuity of selection.
Whatever happens though, I will be giving my all and I know my staff and players will attempt to do likewise.
Hopefully we will finish the season on a high and who knows maybe that can still be on two fronts.