AFTER nine months of misery, Southend United’s most painful ever season finally ended on Saturday.

The match itself – a 1-1 draw against Newport County – mattered very little for the already relegated hosts at Roots Hall.

But it brought to an end a dire and depressing campaign which saw the Shrimpers fall out of the Football League after 101 years.

Blues ultimately finished up second from bottom in the table, four points behind Scunthorpe United who signed off just above the drop zone.

And the harsh reality is Southend got exactly what they deserved this season. To put it bluntly, the Shrimpers were extremely poor in all areas both on and off the pitch and a whole number of factors contributed towards the most excruciatingly awful campaign.

Those issues have long been discussed on these pages and, in truth, will take some time to get over.But there is no point mulling over the past at this stage and next season must start now if Blues are to stand any chance of being able to get back on track.

Time and time again, the same mistakes continue to be made and a dismal downward spiral has been allowed to carry on without, it seems, much urgency.

First of all, a managerial appointment must be sorted as quickly as possible.

The Shrimpers spent 47 days without a permanent manager before Sol Campbell was appointed and another 44 when he departed and was eventually replaced by Mark Molesley.

That simply cannot happen again this summer if Blues are to avoid another season of struggle.

Because make no mistake about it, the National League is a tough, unforgiving division more than capable of swallowing up the Shrimpers unless the necessary improvements are made.

Phil Brown has made a noticeable difference to the side since returning to the club for the final six games of the season. But start the talks on his future now and get it sorted. If that is not possible then look elsewhere and get that agreed instead.

For far too long Blues have wasted much of the off season and continually seem to be playing catch up.

Last season that contributed to a truly appalling start which was among the biggest reasons for relegation and the first ever foray into non-league football.

That has to be avoided this time around and signings need to be made sooner too.

Get the squad in place, organise a proper pre-season with real structure and get the players fighting fit for the very first day. Of course, all of this sounds simple enough but it has not happened in recent seasons and it has resulted in the worst period of the club’s proud 115 year history.

The hurt and heartbreak has been felt across a fanbase which deserves far more than National League football. Around 300 supporters opted to protest again before Saturday’s match and it is easy to understand the growing level of frustration. This is a club which means so much to so many people and for many it is hard to see Blues coming back from this right now.

Off the field, the Shrimpers lack the infrastructure and the solid platform needed to generate the consistency needed for success to be secured and that also has to be sorted.

Ron Martin has promised to soon appoint a new chief execution which is a step in the right direction while the input of Stan Collymore has also provided some ray of light during the club’s darkest days.

The worry remains that the worst is yet to come and immediate plans must be put in place with regards to strict budgeting to avoid a repeat of the financial issues which have hit hard in recent times.

A recruitment drive – focused on the right kind of players - must also start now and so must contract negotiations with any players already at the club who are still wanted.

It is time for actions to speak louder than words and for sensible decisions to be made.

The only good thing about the 2020/21 season in my eyes is the fact it has now finished.

But Blues now find themselves at a critical crossroads and everything must be put in place to make the lowest point in the club’s history the start of a new beginning.

If not, more pain beckons and so too will non-league obscurity.