BRISTOL Rovers boss Graham Coughlan returns to Roots Hall tomorrow insisting he will forever be grateful for the opportunities he received at Southend United

The Irishman, who has been in charge of the Pirates since December, spent almost eight years with the Shrimpers before being dismissed alongside Phil Brown in January 2018.

But Coughlan still remains thankful to Blues.

“I will forever be eternally grateful to the chairman Ron Martin and to the club as well for the chances and opportunities I was given there,” said the 44-year-old.

“I really enjoyed my time there and we went through a lot together.

“I remember coming in with Paul Sturrock in 2010 when the club was battling extinction if we’re being honest about it.

“But I enjoyed the challenge that was put in front of us and would like to think I played a big part, alongside many others, in the progress we made.

“It was tough but we were in and around the play-offs for a lot of the time I was there, we had two trips to Wembley and so many great memories that I’ll never forget.”

However, Coughlan, who held a variety of roles during his time with Blues, did feel hard done by when he was relieved of his duty early last year.

“I’ll be honest about it and I was extremely disappointed and gutted when Ron sacked me,” said Coughlan.

“I had been extremely loyal to the managers and felt as though I didn’t realise deserve it.

“But I don’t hold grudges and I’ve probably spoken to Ron more in the past 12 months than in the eight years I was at the club.

“He’s very driven and craves and wants success for Southend but sometimes things happen for a reason in football and I’ve got a great opportunity with Bristol Rovers now.”

Rovers remain second from bottom in the League One standings, despite having suffered just one defeat in nine games with Coughlan in charge.

And the Irishman is relishing his first stint as a manager.

“I was 10 years the bridesmaid and wasn’t sure if I would ever get this chance so I’m loving it,” said Coughlan.

“It’s a fantastic club and the fans are so passionate.

“They’re nuts but it’s a two club city just like I had in Sheffield during my own playing days so it’s right up my street.”

Rovers’ quest for safety will continue this weekend and Coughlan is looking forward to being back at Roots Hall.

“There are so many great people behind the scenes at the club who it will be great to see again,” said Coughlan.

“They work tirelessly and take great pride in working for Southend.

“I made some great friends during my seven or eight years there and I’ll always want the best for them, just not this weekend of course.”