Blues must get this appointment right or face another season of struggle

Brian Jeeves
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SOL CAMPBELL’S exit from Roots Hall Stadium shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone connected with Southend United.

In fairness to the former Tottenham and Arsenal defender, the writing was on the wall long before his arrival. He inherited a fairly hopeless situation, which many believe had taken hold during the latter part of Phil Brown’s tenure, with subsequent incumbents, Chris Powell and Kevin Bond, unable to turn an ever-increasing and dangerously worrying tide.

If the size of the task wasn’t initially apparent, it must have become clear as he sat in the stand, only hours after accepting the role, watching Doncaster Rovers, an average League One outfit at best, hit seven past his beleaguered charges.

Forced largely to relly on youth, things only marginally improved. Performances were spirited but unquestionably lacked quality. While another sign of what was to come (if anyone couldn’t already see it) was the Emirates FA Cup defeat at Vanarama National League Dover Athletic, described as a giant-killing by the media – the only real surprise being that the non-leaguers failed to win by a far bigger margin.

Campbell did eventually lead Southend to victory. A 2-1 win at Accrington at the twelfth-time of asking was enthusiastically received by the long-suffering Blues faithful. But despite further success against Lincoln and Bristol Rovers, the south-east Essex side found themselves sixteen points from safety when the global pandemic intervened, confirming relegation in what was the worst season in the clubs’ 114-year history.

Unlucky – Out of his depth – Not up to the task – or plain and simply left exhausted? You can make up your own minds. But what now? Who are the runners and rider now favoured by Blues fans for what has become one of the most challenging positions in the EFL?

Old romantics have called for Steve Tilson, who – seemingly a lifetime ago – spearheaded a scramble away from the foot of the Football League before going on to win back-to-back promotions as well as overseeing that League Cup victory over Manchester United – arguably, the greatest result in the clubs’ history.

Tilson did a fantastic job alongside Paul Brush. However, his departure, at a time when Southend seemed similarly ‘all at sea’ gave him an opportunity to prove his worth elsewhere.

A dismal period at Lincoln City, followed by an unspectacular spell in non-league football at Canvey Island, would suggest Tilly race is run in management. But as an assistant – who knows?

That brings me on to Adam Barrett. A man who ran through brick walls on numerous occasions as a Blues player and is passionate about the club beyond doubt.

Supporters have often spoken of a Barrett/Tilson dream team at the helm, and who could blame them. Personally, I think this would be the wrong time for Adam to take the role. Currently, occupying the assistant managers’ position at Millwall, the 40-year-old has an opportunity at The Den to develop further in a secure environment and at a higher level.

A popular choice, yes. But for me, he’d be mad to make the move at the moment.

The return of Phil Brown has been a huge topic and has split opinion. The football wasn’t pleasant during his five-year stint at Roots Hall, but ultimately he managed to claw the club out of the bottom tier, albeit with a sizable budget.

Question marks continually hung over his commitment to the role what with his continued TV and radio presence. However, with the 61-year-old rarely linked with a return to management and Southend seemingly desperate for a man with experience and connections, this one could have legs.

Of course, some believe he burnt his bridges after leaving Southend in January 2018. But never say never. Brown’s teams were notoriously difficult to break down, something evidently lacking ever since.

Under 23’s boss, Craig Fagan has been linked with the post. Premier League experience as a player with Birmingham, Hull and Derby. The 37-year-old initially worked with Hull City’s Academy before moving to Southend in 2019.

It would be a brave appointment with so little experience, although performances from the Blues back-up team have been notably decent since his arrival.

Kevin Maher will always command respect from Blues fans. A succesful captain and natural leader when playing under the guidance of Tilson. The 43-year-old knows Southend United inside out, not only from a decade as a player at Roots Hall, but also gleaned from coaching roles with the youth and under 23 sides.

Currently occupying the assistant managers’ position at Bristol Rovers, Maher could be tempted back for another stint, although again, the job is currently a tough ask for a rookie boss looking to make his way in the game.

Paul Tisdale did a remarkable job during his twelve years at Exeter City, playing a style of football which was easy on the eye. Back-to-back promotions from the National League to League One raised his stock and despite relegation in 2012, the Grecians continued to entertain, twice reaching the play-off final but only to miss out to Blackpool and Coventry respectively.

After leaving St James Park, Tisdale led MK Dons to promotion at the first attempt but was dismissed after a tough start to the 2019/20 campaign, in which the Dons took just one point from a possible 27 – the worst run of results in the club’s history.

Other names will find their way into the hat. Nevertheless, whoever heads through, what in recent times has become a bit of a revolving door at Southend United, this is arguably the most crucial managerial appointment Chairman, Ron Martin, and his board will ever make.

Whether you believe the grand plans of a new stadium will evolve or not and the club will go on to live a long and prosperous existence, this is about the now!

League Two is a ruthless battleground. The current group will struggle to keep thier heads above water, with another relegation battle a genuine concern.

Personally, I think Southend United followers have been remarkably understanding and supportive during a dire period. They are certainly entitled to asks some serious questions if the club gets this wrong and the rapid and worrying decline continues once football returns.


Brian Jeeves