After coming so close to the play-offs in 2016/17, Phil Brown will be seeking improvement with Southend United at Roots Hall. The former Hull City boss has built a solid League One side in Essex and has rebuilt strongly despite losing two regular first team players in Adam Thompson and Will Atkinson who left for Bury and Mansfield respectively.
Brown has signed well, bringing in experience as well as quality. With a tough opening day fixture against newly relegated Blackburn Rovers, the Shrimpers will be after a good start to what could be an exciting campaign. Here are three things that Southend fans will be hoping to see in the opening weeks of the 2017/18 campaign…
To have their first choice eleven settled ASAP
Last season, the Blues failed to nail down their best eleven until mid-October and paid the price. At that point, they looked like relegation favourites and couldn’t get a win for love nor money. By the end of the season, they were promotion candidates and the form team in League One.
Phil Brown hasn’t learnt his lesson, still leaving it until days before the season kicks off to sign Rob Kiernan as only his third central defender. Still, there is time for him to get his starting eleven ready earlier than last season and the Shrimpers only missed out by the narrowest of margins on a play-off spot.
Hope that their veterans can avoid injury
Southend’s starting eleven is one of the strongest in League One. The issue lies in that beyond that eleven, there is very little depth. Michael Turner is already set to miss the start of the season, perhaps not such a surprise after only 15 games in two season, and an injury to Anton Ferdinand would leave the side with only one fit centre-back.
Michael Kightly is another high profile signing, but yet again injury prone. If injury does strike and Southend lose another one or two key players, alongside Ben Coker as he recovers from a broken leg and Nile Ranger rebuilding his fitness after a stay in prison, it could prove to be decisive.
Give Dru Yearwood a shot
The 17-year-old has been hugely impressive in pre-season and has immediately earner plaudits for his all action displays, earning him a four year deal. With doubts continuing to surround the future of Ryan Leonard, it could be a crucial season for Yearwood to make his breakthrough.
In the past, Phil Brown has given the likes of Jack Payne and Dan Bentley the chance to shine and develop and they have gone on to bigger and better things. He must put his faith in Yearwood and help him to improve, as whilst he has all the attributes to succeed, he may not be quite ready yet.
Three things learnt from Southend United’s opening day win over Blackburn Rovers
Blackburn Rovers were in for a shock on their League One debut as they were blown away by a strong Southend United side at Roots Hall.
1,600 travelling fans made the journey south, but it took only 28 minutes for Southend to open the scoring as Ryan Leonard found space at the far post to rifle the ball home.
Matters went from bad to worse for Tony Mowbray when Michael Kightly, previously of Burnley and making his second debut for Southend, scored again ten minutes later.
Rovers dominated early in the second half, Charlie Mulgrew pulling one back from a free-kick, but they failed to mount any real challenge and the Shrimpers comfortably saw the result out.
Here is what The Boot Room learnt from the game…
Phil Brown’s side are contenders
Blackburn’s starting eleven will be one of the strongest in League One this year, on paper at least, but Southend played them off the park. With only two shots on target, they prevented them from posing a real attacking threat and hit them on the counter with a devastating impact.
Michael Kightly and Stephen Hendrie both enjoyed fine returns for second spells at Roots Hall, but Brown was without many key players too. After a quality performance like this, and with the additions of the injured Anthony Wordsworth, Michael Turner and Ben Coker, with Rob Kiernan also building fitness having signed this week and Nile Ranger expected out of prison soon, it could be a strong season for the Shrimpers.
Life won’t be easy in League One for Blackburn
Tony Mowbray’s side really struggled at Roots Hall, with the manager’s stubbornness partly to blame. His refusal to change the system didn’t help matters as Southend continued to exploit their weaknesses, spreading the ball wide whenever possible.
Charlie Mulgrew did his best to save the side, with his excellent free-kick clawing them back into the game, but it was of little consolation in the end. The Scot showed the kind of commitment and desire that has been lacking at Rovers for too long. New signings like the woeful Bradley Dack should take note.
Ryan Leonard is worth keeping hold of
Amid intense speculation linking him with Millwall and Sheffield United, as the Independent reports, Ryan Leonard showed exactly why the Blues want to keep him around. Leonard made it clear that he was committed and would give his all to the club until any potential move, opening the scoring with a darting far post run to volley home.
Alongside Michael Timlin, the duo bossed the midfield and left Rovers chasing them for scraps. It’s clear to see why Championship sides are interested in the number 18, but even clearer just how important he is to Phil Brown’s set-up.
Three things learnt from Brighton’s 3-0 victory over League One Southend United
Brighton have enjoyed a fine start to pre-season in terms of results, seeing off the challenge of League Two side Crawley Town with ease as they thrashed the hosts 6-0. They followed that up with a trip to Germany, where they beat Fortuna Dusseldorf by two goals to nil.
Tuesday night saw their third test as they traveled to League One Southend United. The game started evenly, with Phil Brown’s side dominating the early stages of the game.
It took just ten minutes of quality to decide the game, with Solly March’s brace and a Glenn Murray header putting the game beyond doubt before half time. In a good test for Chris Hughton’s men, the second half was a pure fitness exercise for both sides.
Here’s what The Boot Room learnt from the game…
Solly March will be at the heart of everything Brighton do this summer
The winger’s brace late in the second half opened the scoring and set his side on the way to victory. His skills and trickery down the right flank gave Stephen Hendrie a headache from start to finish and he clearly looked a class above.
When given the opportunity, he drifted to find space in the box and gave himself half a yard before putting a pinpoint shot past the helpless Ted Smith and into the far top corner of the net, before following it up with a precise finish into the bottom corner only minutes later.
Izzy Brown could be a valuable addition
Brighton’s attack does not lack much, but if there is one thing then it may be pace. Brown adds that in bucketloads. His run down the wing and exquisite cross straight onto the head of Glenn Murray set up his team’s third goal.
Brown was clearly settling into his new side on his first appearance in blue and white stripes since joining on loan on Tuesday. He will only get better as he gets to know his new team-mates, but it was a promising start for the 20-year-old.
Keep an eye out for the name Dru Yearwood
The 17-year-old signed a four year contract on Tuesday afternoon and followed it up with his Roots Hall debut against the Seagulls. The Southend central midfielder bossed the midfield and showed great vision and a brilliant range of passing, setting up the likes of Simon Cox and Marc-Antoine Fortune with 40 yard passes.
It may be too soon to expect much from the energetic youngster, but he has impressed Phil Brown in pre-season and looks set for a role in the first team squad this season.
What can Sheffield United or Millwall expect from unsettled Southend midfielder Ryan Leonard?
Southend United player of the year Ryan Leonard has submitted a transfer request and rejected an offer of a new contract at Roots Hall, Essex Echo reporter Chris Phillips has confirmed. The Essex Echo believe that both Sheffield United and Millwall are interested in the central midfielder.
Phillips believes that Sheffield United have already had a bid worth £500,000 rejected this week, but it seems unlikely that it has been enough to deter Chris Wilder in his pursuit of the former Plymouth Argyle youth product. Southend club chairman Ron Martin is determined not to allow him to leave, according to boss Phil Brown, but it seems it is only a matter of time until an agreement is reached.
Leonard has spent six years in south Essex since joining on a free transfer, and has come on leaps and bounds as he has developed from a weak right-back to a dominant central midfielder. First pushed into the middle of the park under Paul Sturrock, Phil Brown has brought his game on and deployed Leonard in a holding midfield role where he has had a huge influence over games.
There has been a change in style in Leonard’s game across the years, despite winning the club’s player of the year award on a record equaling three occasions. In 2013/14, Leonard focused his game around trademark driving runs forward from deep, looking to move his team forward or pounce on loose balls in and around the box. Along with that came a number of spectacular goals and an all round midfielder.
In more recent years, Leonard has seen his role become more defensive minded. Operating alongside Anthony Wordsworth, Leonard has protected his defence and allowed his midfield counterpart the freedom to roam forwards. Whilst the driving runs may be reduced, Leonard has shown himself to be one of the best in the Football League at breaking up attacks.
A real athlete, with high fitness levels and a great reading of the game, Leonard cuts attacks out and immediately looks to get his side forward. He is tactically astute and intelligent both on and off the ball, happily filling in for team-mates such as marauding right-back Jason Demetriou.
There is little doubt that Leonard can take his skills and apply them in the Championship. Despite having played just two seasons at League One level, the 25-year-old has already made himself one of the best players in the division. If he can replicate that kind of improvement in the second tier, it could only be a matter of time until he’s moving on to the Premier League.
It may not be easy for either Sheffield United or Millwall to agree a fee with Southend, with a bidding war not likely to help matters. However, Leonard does have just one year left on his current contract and has clearly had his head turned by interest from the newly promoted duo. Once a deal has been agreed, which seems highly likely, the victor will be getting a very reliable, very consistent and very effective player who will boss the midfield even at Championship level.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by SONICA Photography.
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