ON Southend United’s previous visit to Bristol Rovers manager Phil Brown sat in the stands not well enough to stand on the sidelines or address the media after the match.

But, such was the level of the Shrimpers performance on their return to the Memorial Stadium, Brown was probably not feeling too much better on Saturday.

The game was of significant importance in terms of making the play-offs and closing the gap on sixth placed Millwall who were in FA Cup action this weekend.

Yet Blues were nowhere near their best as they sunk to a 2-0 defeat against the Pirates following yet another poor first half.

The Shrimpers could have found themselves further behind during a slow start which is now becoming something of a worrying trend.

Southend started sluggishly when losing at Gillingham, drawing with Port Vale and again on Saturday and have now triumphed just once in their last five games, taking five points from the last 15 on offer.

As a result, a place in the end of season play-offs is beginning to look less likely.

Blues remain four points outside the top six but have now played a game more than sixth placed Millwalll and will quickly need to re-find their best form if they are to get anywhere near extending their season.

With that in mind, the time has come to make changes to the starting line-up and, in truth, they should have come in Saturday’s showdown.

A few of the key players who have helped Blues work their way up the League One standings after a slow start to the season now appear to be running on empty and things simply have to be freshened up to get the Shrimpers firing on all cyclinders once again.

The midfield area in particular needs close attention where more width, creativity and energy is now needed along with people playing in their natural positions.

Stephen McLaughlin’s return from an ankle injury – which had kept him out of action since December – was the biggest plus point on Saturday and the Irishman will have a key part to play in the remainder of the season.

Theo Robinson and Nile Ranger should also be considered for recalls in attack while on loan Tottenham Hotspur youngster Luke Amos deserves an opportunity in the centre or the park.

Amos has been an unused substitute in all of his nine matches since arriving from White Hart Lane in January but, after shining in a recent under 21 game against AFC Wimbledon, the youngster should be given a go otherwise what was the point in bringing him to Blues in the first place.

The Shrimpers also need to find a way of shoring things up at the back having now secured just one clean sheet in their last 11 outings.

Seven goals have been conceded in the last five games and only the woodwork and some fine saves from Ted Smith stopped that tally being even higher on Saturday.

Somehow or other, Blues must get back to being more solid and a recall for John White should certainly be considered.

Adam Thompson and Anton Ferdinand have been in fine form at the heart of the back four while Ben Coker is one the best left-backs at League One level.

Jason Demetriou is also a fine footballer on the opposite side of the rearguard and offers a lot to the team going forward.

However, at times he can be found wanting defensively and it may be worth giving White an opportunity to impress in a bid to form a more solid defence especially as the Blues’ former skipper was extremely unlucky not to stay in the side after producing a man of the match display at Fleetwood Town.

But, while there should not be an extreme overreaction to Saturday’s setback, the Shrimpers are starting to lose momentum at the worst possible stage of the campaign and it is now time to utilise a strong squad to stop what had seemed a promising season from petering out.