Brown can leave with his head held high, but it’s time to go
In truth, a lot of Southend supporters have never taken to Brown. One of his first jobs when taking over was to oversee Southend’s first ever cup final, and his selection of seven defenders in the starting line-up (yet still excluding Area Final hero Mark Phillips), still leaves people puzzled and angry. Also, his apparent readiness to court bigger and better jobs (Sunderland, Bolton, England number 2) has rankled with a good number of supporters.
His style of football has (with the notable exception of November – March last year) been fairly turgid and defensive. In 2014/15, he won promotion yet his side failed to score three goals in a single home match. However, they also didn’t concede a goal in the regular league campaign between March 18 and that infamous final day defeat to Morecambe.
Yet this season, his famed “clean sheet mentality” has spectacularly unravelled this season, and it could be argued the season failed before it had even started following disastrous summer recruitment. His two new defensive signings, Rob Kiernan and Michael Turner, were not fit and both have missed large chunks of the season. Kiernan – infamously dubbed a ‘wow signing’ in the press, in particular started unfit, quickly got injured and is yet to appear since August. Michael Kightly has also had injury problems and has yet to produce the form of his recent career. The other senior signing, Stephen Hendrie, quickly fell behind a central midfielder in the pecking order for his left back spot.
This has resulted in a completely unsettled back four which has often been propped up by the out-of-position John White. Anton Ferdinand has gone from one of the star performers of last season to a joke figure, so bad have some of his performances been – and it won’t have been helped by continually playing alongside different partners. Unsurprisingly, Southend’s biggest problem this season has been conceding goals, which is inexcusable for a manager who takes a safety first approach.
The malaise has spread to the rest of the team and players who last year were enjoying fine spells of form have failed to reproduce this so far this term. Anthony Wordsworth and Simon Cox in particular haven’t reached the heights of last season, although injuries and personal issues have not helped Wordsworth, and Cox is too often forced to feed off scraps.
Brown has too often been guilty of panicking and making unfathomable changes to systems and personnel following defeats, suggesting he doesn’t really have the answer and lacks faith in several members of his own playing squad. His criticism of younger players (much of it implied rather than direct) in the media has particularly rankled in recent weeks.
Given the last three performances and results, the axe can come as no surprise. Against fellow strugglers, Southend have never looked like winning any of the games and, with a crucial relegation six-pointer at Rochdale on Saturday, the chairman clearly cannot risk this happening again.
Southend’s form on the road has been woeful – they’ve avoided defeat just four times this season in all competitions. Perhaps Brown has only lasted this long because Blues were unbeaten at home until December 16 – but have since lost three from four at Roots Hall.
Phil Brown however does not deserve the abuse he has taken in recent weeks. His record overall is 98 wins in 251 matches, a very respectable win percentage of 39% – the same as Steve Tilson – even taking into account this poor campaign. He has led us to promotion from League Two and last season, our highest finish since 2008. The history books will be kind, but history books do not keep you in League One and the current run of seven defeats from eight has seen Southend hurtle towards the drop zone. The manner of the defeats is hugely concerning, and it is clear something is very wrong behind the scenes.
Managers can go stale, like anything else. I’ll be the first to express my gratitude to Phil Brown for some of the good times, which have been plentiful. There’s no doubt this will be a blow to him personally, and the majority of Southend fans will wish him well for the future. However, if there was ever a time to part company, this is it. Southend are in deep trouble and it now falls to a new man to save our season.