SOUTHEND United’s academy has produced some top young players in recent seasons but it could now have also unearthed a top young manager.

Mark Bonner spent six years working within the Shrimpers set up before heading back to Cambridge United in 2011.

After progressing through the ranks with the U’s, Bonner was put in charge of the first team in March and immediately started to transform the club’s fortunes.

That fine form has continued into the current campaign.

And Bonner will be back at Roots Hall to face Blues this weekend with Cambridge sitting second in the standings, just a point behind table-topping Newport County.

“It will be great to be back at Southend as I had six and a half brilliant years there at the academy,” said Bonner.

“I joined in 2005 with Ricky Duncan and Luke Hobbs and worked with them before going back to Cambridge in 2011 to take over the under 18s.

“I had a brilliant time there and Ricky has really done an incredible job.

“I’m proud of the part we all played in that at the beginning but it’s nearly 10 years since I left and it’s continued to go from strength to strength.”

But Bonner has also started to excel in the dug-out and feels much of his success can be put down to what he experienced at such a young age himself while with the Shrimpers.

“I was 19 when I came to Southend and Ricky was excellent to me,” said Bonner.

“He gave me lots of opportunities and experiences which were great.

“I worked with the under nines to the under 16s while I was there and I had a number of different positions in that time.”

Bonner opted to head back to Cambridge in 2011 and quickly caught the eye of the club’s hierarchy with his work.

“I’ve had an accelerated journey here to go through to the first team,” said Bonner.

“I took the under 18s to begin with and then became academy manager.

“I worked with the 18s and 23s and then ended up as a first team coach.

“I worked under Richard Money, Shaun Derry, Joe Dunne and Colin Calderwood.

“I was assistant manager to the last two and had two spells as caretaker manager before being given the job in March.

“I always had it in the back of mind that I’d like to have a go at managing the team or being head coach but that opportunity came around a lot sooner than I thought it would.

“However, when you get given these opportunities I think you have to try and grab them.”

Bonner has certainly made the most of his chance in charge, winning 14 of his 25 matches.

But the U’s boss is not getting carried away by the bright start to the season.

“We’ve made really good progress but we’ve had a quarter of the season so we can’t judge ourselves as ultimately successful right now,” said Bonner.

“We wanted to create a competitive team and build a bit of identity as a club and we’ve managed to see some positive results.

“Our job now is to try and maintain the consistency we’ve built up in this period but we know how difficult that will be because this is a league where lots of teams can beat anyone and league positions can change very quickly.

“We’re taking nothing for granted.”

That will also be the case this weekend, despite the Shrimpers’ slow start to the season.

Mark Molesley’s side sit bottom of the table but secured their first win of the campaign last time out, beating Walsall 1-0.

And Bonner is therefore expecting a tough match with Blues.

“We’ve got to make sure we bring our very best game to Southend because they will be buoyed by their result last weekend,” said Bonner.

“Walsall haven’t lost a lot of games themselves so it was a good win there and we know we’re in for a difficult game.

“We will have to play well to give ourselves the best chance of getting the points and any time you don’t show up or don’t play well you get beaten in this league.

“It’s another really big chance and a massive game but it will be good to be back at Roots Hall.”