ROB Howard will be more determined than most when Southend United visit Billericay Town tonight.

For not only does the 19-year-old right-back live within a mile of Billericay’s ground but he is also eager to push his claims for a first team berth with the Shrimpers.

“Billericay will be a good game to be involved in,” said Howard, who has been back with Blues for the past two seasons.

“It’s not just because I’m a local lad but they are a good team and have good players so it will be a good test against them and I’m looking forward to it.

“My aim is to stay around the first team for as long as possible and see where the season takes me.

“Hopefully I can keep working hard and strive to get into the first team permanently.”

Howard was with Blues as a youngster before joining Arsenal at the age of 14.

After being released following three seasons with the Gunners, Howard enjoyed two years with Colchester before returning to Blues and signing his first professional contract last summer.

The defender was an unused substitute for the Shrimpers’ Checkatrade Trophy clash at Luton Town last term and has been enjoying being back around the first team in pre-season.

“It’s been really good to be around the first team,” said Howard.

“The training is more intense and you’ve got to perform well everyday to prove you’re good enough to be training and playing with them.

“It’s been tough but I feel like I’m getting fitter and getting as sharp as possible.”

Blues started their friendlies with a 2-0 defeat at Reading on Saturday.

But Howard enjoyed facing the Royals.

“The Reading game was tough as they were a good side but it was good to get the first 45 minutes of pre-season done and it felt good to be back out on the pitch,” said Howard.

“Now it’s time to push on in the upcoming games.”

Blues boss Kevin Bond again expects to call on trialists Corey Jordan, Andre Blackman and Jordan Lyden this evening but confirmed Callum Roberts was unlikely to figure.

Bond also revealed Luke Hyam, Timothee Dieng and Simon Cox would all miss out with calf injuries.