SOUTHEND United warmed up for Saturday’s showdown with Exeter City by training in the Portuguese sunshine.
But, come the end of the game with the Grecians, dark clouds were gathered above Roots Hall, in more ways than one.
Blues have now gone five games without a win and have slipped down to seventh in the League Two table after two successive shock defeats.
Prior to the weekend, Southend were beaten by a Mansfield Town team who had not won at home since September.
And, on Saturday, they were seen off 3-2 by an Exeter City side who had not won in 2014.
It was far from a fortunate victory either as the Grecians were on top for most of the match, even when trailing, and would have secured a far more convincing victory had it not been for some fine saves from Southend goalkeeper Daniel Bentley.
The young Shrimpers shot-stopper pulled off at least six impressive stops as Exeter continually carved open a suspect Southend defence, which seemed shaky right from the start.
Adam Thompson looked far from convincing alongside Mark Phillips at the heart of the back four and the Grecians took full advantage of that vulnerability by piling on the pressure.
It resulted in them winning an unbelievable 18 corners and from two of them late on in the game they bagged the goals needed to come out on top and make it another miserable afternoon for the Shrimpers.
How Phil Brown’s side now bounce back from the series of setbacks is of paramount importance and it is at both ends of the pitch they need to do far better.
Blues have worked themselves into a promising position in the table by being solid and hard to break down.
And they must get back to that if they are to remain in the top seven.
Luke Prosser, who has made massive improvements for Southend this term, is currently a huge miss for the team, but it could also be that boss Brown may well need to delve into the loan market to recruit another defender in order to shore things up even more.
But, at the other end of the field, the strikers are finding it hard to hit the back of the net.
The returning Lee Barnard has yet to score in four games, Barry Corr has now netted once in his last 11 league games while Freddy Eastwood has not worked his way on to the score-sheet since October.
In recent weeks though, chances have not really even been created for the strikers and that is perhaps an even bigger concern as Blues’ bid to avoid a slump in the latter stages of the season for the third year in succession.
It could well be that changes need to be made to freshen things up, with the likes of Marc Laird and Anthony Straker pushing for recalls.
Midfielder Laird was among Blues’ best performers at the start of the season before injury forced him out of the action.
But since regaining full fitness, the Scotsman has struggled to get back into the team and has been on the bench for the last 12 games.
His ball retention skills could now give the Shrimpers a boost while the inclusion of Straker would add pace, balance and width to the team – all things that were missing on Saturday as Southend suffered their first home league defeat since losing to Dagenham in October.
It is, therefore, not time to panic just yet but there have been some worrying signs for the Shrimpers in their last few outings.
And they must quickly start to get back to their best and grind out more positive results if they are to still enjoy a successful conclusion to the campaign.