Focus is key for a successful season: 2016/17 preview

'Marquee' signing, Simon Cox

‘Marquee’ signing, Simon Cox

AS the League One curtain raiser fast approaches, there’s plenty of excitement at Roots Hall as the club attempts to complete its transfer business before the kick off. Phil Brown is perhaps getting a little too excited, claiming he has got to fourth base with a striker, perhaps a touch too much information at this stage.

Adam King’s arrival from Swansea may be delayed due to international clearance, so it looks like a default central midfield pairing of Ryan Leonard and Will Atkinson against the Gills. While some fans have expressed concerns about this, it should be pointed out that it was those two firing up the engine room during our best form of last season.

Having nosedived spectacularly in the final month of last season after a steady decline since Christmas, a winning start is more important than usual, but fans will be acutely aware that Daniel Bentley, David Worrall and Jack Payne were arguably three of Southend’s best performers last year and will not be easy to replace. Bentley’s fine relationship with his defenders meant despite Southend facing one of the highest amount of opposition chances in the league last year, relatively few beat the Wickford-born stopper. It will be interesting to see how quickly either Ted Smith or new arrival Mark Oxley can earn the trust of the defence.

Reinforcements are still required in central defence, with Adam Thompson and Adam Barrett, now 35, being joined by Jakub Sokolik. Since his successful partnership with John Egan while on loan in 2014, Sokolik’s career has plummeted and it represents a gamble to bring him back following his release by Yeovil, who finished mid-table in League Two. Rumours are currently linking Blues with a move for Spurs defender Dominic Ball, whose versatility will be attractive to Brown. Ball played at right back, central defence and defensive midfield for Rangers on loan last year and is highly rated by his parent club.

An impressive signing from Walsall, Jason Demetriou looks an upgrade on John White, whose versatility should keep last season’s captain a first-team regular. Demetriou is far more attack-minded than White which should result in more crosses coming from that side of the pitch. Ben Coker is still here despite overtures from Reading, and if fit should again prove to be one of the better left-sided full backs in the division. He will certainly be relied upon with only White, who prefers the right-hand side, as backup.

David Worrall’s departure takes both goals and creativity from the midfield. Direct replacement Jermaine McGlashan flattered to deceive at Gillingham after a decent spell at Cheltenham, but at 28 it is hoped he can finally find the consistency that has eluded him in his career thus far. He is set to start on the right wing, with Stephen McLaughlin on the left. The Irishman is, of course, made of glass but enjoyed an injury-free pre-season where he impressed, particularly against west ham when he scored two and made the other for David Mooney. McLaughlin has genuine quality in his delivery and he may be the man to step up and fill Worrall’s shoes. Jack Bridge will be a back-up for McLaughlin and as such should see plenty of game time having impressed greatly at Chelmsford City last season with his dazzling runs on the left. Many expect this to be his ‘break-through’ season.

Injuries to the influential Michael Timlin and goal threat Anthony Wordsworth mean Blues will be short of options in the centre at the beginning of the season. King’s addition is a welcome move. A midfielder who likes to make late runs into the box, his loan spell at Crewe was cut short last year because Swansea wanted to see him play at a higher level. In the end he saw out the season with the Swans, who rated him highly enough to sign him to a new three-year deal. His four goals for the Railwaymen last year included two delightful 25-yard daisy cutters, boding well for a side that lacked goals from midfield (or indeed, anywhere) last season.

While pre-season is hardly the time to draw convincing conclusions, David Mooney’s form during July is reason to hope the Irish forward enjoys a more prolific season this time around, while Simon Cox’s arrival is the big-name signing that all supporters demand. At 29 and relatively injury-free, he should be capable of scoring goals at this level but also seems as much of a creator of goals and the kind of player that Mooney thrives alongside.

The signing of Nile Ranger has certainly made headlines. Phil Brown’s ego means he feels he can be the manager to finally tame the rather wild front man, who hasn’t played a football match since November 2014. The fact that no other manager has succeeded in this aim has not deterred the Shrimpers boss, and do leopards really change their spots? To be fair to Ranger, his attitude in pre-season has reportedly been excellent and perhaps, at 25, the penny really has dropped this time. If it has, and if his injury niggles clear up, Ranger may well prove to be the shrewdest signing of the lot. It is, of course, a very big if.

The strikers look the part at the moment, but the problem for any forward player under Brown has always been the manager’s defensive leanings and issues with the supply line. In light of that, anyone netting more than 15 goals in 2016/17 will have had an exceptional season.

Off the pitch, the uncertainty over Brown’s position arguably contributed much to the dreadful end to the last campaign and the orange one certainly does not appear to have learned his lesson, irking supporters by failing to pour cold water on media tittle tattle about a role in the England set up or as assistant to Steve Bruce at Sunderland.

For the sake of the togetherness in the squad, a vital component of our promotion in 2015, Brown needs to nail his colours to the mast. For a man making noises about jobs at Championship level or higher, a pre-requisite should really be to have a promotion on a CV from a division that Brown has yet to succeed in – League One. If he can stay focused, he stands a chance of achieving this by staying exactly where he is. If he can’t, he needs to walk and let someone else take the reins.

STRENGTHS: Organisation, strong full-backs, pedigree and experience among strikers.
WEAKNESSES: Injury-prone players, lack of depth, particularly in central defence, manager’s ego/commitment issues, potential lack of goals from midfield.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Jack Bridge
PREDICTED FINAL POSITION: 16th