It’s been fairly obvious to Southend United fans for a few seasons that while the Shrimpers have consistently had good sides, they are one top striker away from being a great side. In Tyrone Barnett, they may well have found that man.
Since Phil Brown’s arrival at the south Essex club, there was a heavy reliance on the injury prone Barry Corr for goals. Corr dealt with the expectation well, scoring 32 goals in 103 games in his time at Roots Hall under Phil Brown, but he often played through the pain barrier, with knee, back and neck injuries plaguing him throughout his time at the club. A surprise exit to Cambridge United followed in the summer, and left many Blues fans wondering where the goals were going to come from.
With only weeks to until the season kicked off, and after the release of Lee Barnard, Phil Brown was left with only one striker on the books in the form of youngster Jason Williams, whose experience was limited to non-league loan spells and a handful of cameo substitute appearances.
Leyton Orient’s once 20 goal a season striker Dave Mooney was the first to join, with the experienced Noel Hunt reportedly turning down a move to the MLS in favour of the estuary club, and play-off final hero Joe Pigott returning on loan from Charlton. With Phil Brown having preferred to play with one striker up front, and Jack Payne also an option if needed, that seemed enough.
The truth is that the first few months of the season didn’t really go to plan for any of the new signings up front. Hunt spent a large spell of the first half of the season out with ankle and foot injuries, Mooney struggled to find form, scoring only three goals from open play before Christmas, and Pigott was sent back to Charlton in January after falling out of favour and struggling to even make an appearance from the bench. Now in League 2 on loan at Luton, it seems that Brown made the right call.
Pigott’s departure left a space in the squad. One which Tyrone Barnett has taken and completely transformed the Southend front line. Ever present, other than the tie against his parent club Shrewsbury Town nd when a calf injury kept him out against Bradford City, Barnett has been in superb form, scoring four in his first six games, including goals against high flying Burton Albion and Coventry City.
A transfer target for Southend and Phil Brown when Barnett originally moved from Peterborough to Shrewsbury in January 2015, the striker scored against the Shrimpers on his debut for the Salop, and went on to score 10 in 45 for his parent club before this January’s loan move. Not a bad record you may think, particularly considering that 22 of his 45 appearances in blue and gold came from the bench, but he was one of many players frozen about by manager Micky Mellon as he sought to rejuvenate his relegation battling squad.
Now at Roots Hall, reportedly with a view to a permanent move, Barnett’s power and pace have made a massive difference to Southend who have lacked a real target man since Barry Corr’s departure. Barnett provides that side of the game in a much more effective way than David Mooney who had previously played that role, using his strength to win headers and bringing in the likes of Noel Hunt and Jack Payne around him in a way which was non-existent before.
Barnett’s man of the match performance live on Sky Sports against Burton Albion was a great summary of everything that he has brought to Southend. Southend’s opening goal was created by a great powerful run by Barnett, who set up Jack Payne before making a great run to create space for Anthony Wordsworth to finish. Such movement was a rare sight until Barnett’s arrival, and his goal to put the Blues back ahead in the second half showed real quality to take a superb touch to get the ball out of his feet before curling it past Jon McLaughlin and inside the far post.
What remains to be seen is how far Barnett can propel Southend. His impact already has been positive, and his absence has been notable in the fixtures at Greenhous Meadow and Valley Parade, and the Shrimpers have been pushing for a play-off place in their first season back in League 1. While promotion may be a step too far this season, the thought of signing Barnett permanently in the summer could be enough to have Blues fans licking their lips at the thought of the strongest attacking threat they’ve had since Phil Brown’s arrival at Roots Hall.