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It's very sad but the time was right for Freddy Eastwood to leave Southend United
ALL Southend United supporters would have been saddened by the departure of Freddy Eastwood.
But, deep down, most of them will also realise it was the right time for the popular striker to depart Roots Hall.
Eastwood will forever remain a Shrimpers legend for his stunning first spell with his home-town club as he fired them to arguably the most successful spell in their history.
The forward bagged 65 goals in 135 games as Blues bagged successive promotions to reach the Championship.
But those impressive statistics only tell half the story as Eastwood regularly conjured up moments of magic which will never be forgotten.
From scoring a hat-trick and opening his account inside eight seconds on his debut against Swansea City, Eastwood went on to enjoy a number of real highlights.
He scored in seven successive games during the 2004/05 campaign and then went on to net in the play-off semi-final and final to help the Shrimpers win promotion from League Two.
Eastwood ended that campaign with 24 goals before ending the following season with 25 as Blues secured the League One title.
His terrific tally included fantastic hat-tricks against both Bristol City, on his birthday, and Chesterfield.
He also bagged a brace away at Swansea City to clinch promotion and the following season came perhaps his most famous ever goal when he powered home a fine free-kick to help Southend beat Manchester United in the League Cup.
Those heroics catapulted Eastwood to the forefront of a far wider audience and it came as no surprise when he left to join Wolverhampton Wanderers for £1.5million at the end of the 2006/07 season.
However, the forward never really hit such highs for Wolves or Coventry City who he joined a year later for £1.2million and in a combined total of 159 games for those two sides he managed just 22 goals.
After that, he made a high profile return to Roots Hall, initially on loan in March 2012, hoping to roll back the years and rekindle the kind of form he showed first time around.
But the striker seemed to struggle with his fitness and mobility and found first team appearances hard to come by while Paul Sturrock was in charge.
However, when Phil Brown took control in March 2013, Eastwood started to feature more regularly.
He scored in four successive games towards the start of last season before a knee injury hindered that progress and restricted his level of involvement.
Despite that, Eastwood’s every appearance was still greeted by one of the loudest cheers from the supporters – but it appeared to be happening more in hope than expectation.
Everyone connected with the club still held the striker firmly in their hearts and were all desperate for his flashes of brilliance to return.
Sadly, they started to become far less frequent and his departure has therefore not come as much of a surprise.
But Eastwood’s legendary status remains safe and, when at his best, he was one of the most exciting and entertaining players to ever have starred for the Shrimpers.
In my 25 years of watching Southend, only Stan Collymore ranks higher for his quality and unpredictably in the final third.
Yet when Eastwood’s own excellence is looked back upon in years to come it will very much be his first spell which is remembered and not the second.