IN THE aftermath of Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Shrewsbury Town, Southend United manager Phil Brown insisted he was optimistic the Shrimpers could still make the play-offs.

But, although the Blues boss is right to remain positive in public, privately he must feel as though his side have their work cut out to secure a top six finish.

After all, Saturday’s setback was Southend’s fifth in their last six games and saw them slip to 13th in the League One standings, 10 points below sixth placed Portsmouth.

Eight points have now been taken from the previous 27 on offer and Blues have triumphed in just two of their last nine League games.

In total, the Shrimpers now have 31 points from 25 games and will therefore need to step things up considerably to even remain in contention for the top six.

On average throughout the past 10 seasons, 72 points have been required to seal a play-off place.

And if that trend is to be continued then Blues will need to pick up 41 points from their final 21 games, something which given the current form seems quite unlikely.

But as the Shrimpers bid to make strides forward they did not have far to look to learn some valuable lessons at the weekend as a hard-working Shrewsbury side moved to within two points of table-topping Wigan Athletic with their win.

Without wanting to sound at all disrespectful, Shrewsbury’s unexpected success this season has been built on being organised, hungry and hard to break down.

The team is built on big hearts rather than big names or budgets and sees a couple of experienced professionals mixed in with some younger heads who are eager to make a name for themselves.

Nothing spectacular seems to have been done but their ongoing success proves exactly what can be achieved through organisation and having a clear structure in place.

Southend have shown glimpses of that themselves this season but have failed to produce it on a consistent basis and therefore find themselves sitting in mid-table.

Blues will be hoping to kick on during the second half of the season and, with that in mind, the January transfer window will be incredibly important in ultimately deciding their destiny.

Recruitment, in truth, has been quite poor at Roots Hall in recent times and the five summer signings have managed just 37 starts between them this season, an average of just 7.4.

Josh Wright – who came to the club slightly later – has now been forced to the sidelines with a hamstring injury and Blues should be looking to bring in pace, power and mobility before the end of the month.

Arguably Brown’s best signing during his five year stint with Blues was bringing in Ben Coker, who at the time was finding it hard to find a Football League club.

The Shrimpers now need to focus on finding further gems and players determined to make an impression and feature alongside the many experienced heads.

Ryan Leonard certainly fitted that bill when he first came to the club after being released by his hometown team Plymouth Argyle. But, in six seasons with the Shrimpers, Leonard has grown in stature and now has to be regarded as one of the best midfielders at League One level.

It has therefore come as no surprise that Leonard continues to be tracked by Championship club Sheffield United. The Blades had a trio of bids for the 25-year-old rejected in the summer but remain determined to bring him in.

And the Shrimpers hierarchy therefore find themselves with a big decision to make.

Without Leonard’s energy levels and work rate, Blues are far less of a team and have lost five of their last six League games without him. From that point of view, Southend may remain determined to keep hold of their prized asset.

But, if Leonard does not leave now then he will do in the summer and from a business point of view it would seemingly make sense to now accept an offer of around £700,000 instead of losing him for free at the end of the season, especially with the Shrimpers’ play-off hopes fading fast.