SOUTHEND United manager Chris Powell believes it is harder than ever to snap up non-league starlets.

The Shrimpers boss insists he does keep tabs on those currently playing below the Football League.

But he feels all clubs are now fully aware of talented players making a good impression at a lower level.

“Unfortunately, nowadays the secret is always out and it’s definitely not like it used to be,” said Powell.

“If there’s a player scoring goals in non-league, like Dwight Gayle was at Bishop’s Stortford for instance, everyone is on it and they’re interested.

“I remember him from years ago but of course we do look at non-league.

“We look in the National League, National League South and lower than that too.

“It’s hard and normally you get players like that to come in for a week or two because they are normally part-time.

“But there are definitely gems out there.”

Powell delved into non-league during the summer to sign Sam Barratt from Maidenhead United.

But the highly-rated winger has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a knee injury after making just one substitute appearance in League One.

“We took Sam Barratt but, unfortunately, he’s missing for the season as he was an unknown gem,” said Powell.

“We still get one or two now that come up in non-league but it’s very rare that the secret isn’t already out.

“We’ll always try to find them before anyone else and we will always use our contacts to unearth one or two more gems both locally and everywhere else too.”