FOR THE second Saturday in succession Southend United avoided defeat against one of the top teams in the National League – due to the spirit of their squad rather than its size.

Seven days on from beating table-topping Chesterfield at Roots Hall, the Shrimpers took on another tough test as they travelled to an in-form Gateshead.

And it was another challenge Blues were again able to deal with as they dug deep to secure a 1-1 draw.

Kevin Maher’s side were, as usual, forced to overcome a number of issues and they started even before Saturday’s clash kicked off.

Injuries to Oli Coker and Wes Fonguck left Blues short of midfielders and again meant the matchday squad consisted of just two substitutes.

Furthermore, Harry Taylor had to move from a defensive role – in which he has excelled this season – into the centre of the park due to the enforced absences.

But the Shrimpers were again able to overcome the issues coming their way to avoid defeat and it is certainly not a fluke it keeps on happening.

Firstly, the players Blues do have available are right up there with some of the very best in the league.

Many of them would start for the majority of sides at this level and merged together they have genuine team spirit which is the strongest I have witnessed at Roots Hall since the double promotion under Steve Tilson.

The closeness of the group is also another indicator of the excellent recruitment being done which clearly looks at the characteristics of a potential signing rather than just their playing ability.

David Martin certainly epitomises that philosophy and produced his best performance yet between the sticks for the Shrimpers on Saturday.

His saves, against an intricate and impressive Gateshead, made sure of a hard-fought point for Blues who have now been beaten just once in their last 10 league games.

Much of that is the group being galvanised by the problems they continue to overcome and the fact that every single player has a genuine part to play.

Furthermore, the management team know exactly what they are doing too.

Early on at the weekend, Gateshead were the superior side and showed just why they sit fifth in the National League standings.

But Blues soon changed shape and shifted to more of a 4-4-2 formation towards the latter stages of the first half to provide them with a foothold in the game.

That ultimately led to Harry Cardwell bagging an equaliser as he ended a six game goal drought to score his 12th effort of the season.

The striker, in my opinion, is the most important member of the Shrimpers squad as his pace, power and physicality is irreplaceable at Roots Hall right now.

And it was a huge plus point for him to get back on the score-sheet.

A fit and firing Cardwell poses problems for any opposing defender in this division and he will now be looking for more goals against Wealdstone this weekend.

Moving that match from last Tuesday, as originally scheduled, to this Saturday was another excellent strategic move from the Shrimpers and certainly seemed to make a difference against Gateshead.

Rob Elliot’s side made the 410 mile round journey to Solihull in midweek while the Shrimpers were resting and it was therefore not a surprise it was the visitors who looked fresher and fitter for the majority of the second half.

The travelling supporters also played their part and they are very much a major driving force for this team.

The Shrimpers were roared on by 324 fans at the weekend and their brilliant backing provides added momentum when the going gets tough.

That has often been the case this season with problems mounting on and off the pitch.

Those issues are by now very well-known but they have not affected the level of performance and it is important to remember the club’s office staff too where that is concerned.

Hopes are now high for a brighter future and all eyes are on the takeover where that is concerned.

Understandably there is an eagerness to get the deal done from everyone connected with the club and it is close to being completed.

Only one or two more things must be agreed before the consortium officially take control but it is very much still expected to happen.

That should bring sustainability to the Shrimpers at long, long last and provide a stable financial platform for the future.

But these players and the performances they have produced during the most troubling time of the club’s entire history should never be forgotten.