‘We need a 20-goal-a-season striker’

Cox scored 16 in 2016/17, not far short of 20.

Cox scored 16 in 2016/17, not far short of 20.

“JUST a 20-goal-a-season striker needed and we’ll be up there”. Ah the platitudes of every single football fan across the world. The thing is, for clubs like Southend, they don’t exist.

Well, they do of course, in a manner of speaking. We will know if we have a 20-goal-a-season striker (from hereon I shall call them 20GASS to save myself from repetitive strain injury) at the end of the season. If they’ve scored 20 goals, they are one. If they haven’t, they aren’t.

I may be being a little facetious here but if you think about this rationally for a moment, when have Southend United ever successfully signed a proven 20GASS? If someone scores that number of goals at any kind of significant level, they become a target for clubs far higher than ourselves. Let’s have a look at those strikers who scored 20 goals in L1, L2 and the National League – going higher would be unrealistic when you are talking about SUFC transfer targets.

Jack Marriott (Peterborough) – 26 goals. Signed for Derby for £3million plus add-ons.
Brett Pitman (Portsmouth) – 24 goals. Still under contract at Portsmouth.
Marc McNulty (Coventry) – 25 goals. Signed for Reading for £750,000
Billy Kee (Accrington) – 25 goals. Still at Accrington.
Mohamed Eisa (Cheltenham) – 23 goals. Signed for Bristol City for £1.5million
Danny Hylton (Luton) – 21 goals. Still under contract at Luton.
Christian Doidge (Forest Green) – 20 goals. Still at Forest Green but chased by Sunderland and Aberdeen
Andy Cook (Tranmere) – 27 goals. Signed for Walsall
Danny L. Rowe (Fylde) – 24 goals. Still at Fylde – bids of around £500,000 turned down.
James Norwood (Tranmere) – 23 goals. Still at Tranmere but linked with Sunderland.
Macauley Bonne (Leyton Orient) – 22 goals. Still at Orient.
Bruno Andrade (Boreham Wood) – 22 goals Signed for Lincoln City.

So there you have it. Of the 72 clubs in those three divisions, only 11 had a 20GASS last year. Two of them played for Tranmere. Realistically, who would you want Southend to sign? Macauley Bonne perhaps, although he is a Col Ewe reject and a lot of his goals came from the spot. James Norwood? Bruno Andrade, Andy Cook, perhaps you could argue we may have been able to tempt them. But maybe Chris Powell didn’t fancy them? The rest were totally unrealistic targets due to the fees they would have commanded, or the interest from far bigger clubs.

To answer an earlier question, looking back in history, when was the last time Southend United signed a 20GASS? The answer is 2007. The man with the glittering goalscoring background? Charlie MacDonald had scored 39 goals in 61 games for Gravesend the previous year. As you know, he set the world alight at Roots Hall. Oh no, my mistake, he scored 1 goal in 26 games. And we lost that game 3-1 (Doncaster away).

The last Southend United player to net 20 league goals in a season was Freddy Eastwood back in 2005/06. He obviously joined from non-league Grays and nobody had the first clue who he was when he stepped on that pitch against Swansea City. The rest is history. Barry Corr netted 19 in 2010/11, he had scored three goals in total for his previous club Exeter. Similar can be said for Martin Carruthers, who netted 19 in 1999/2000.

So the obsession with the 20GASS is a myth. In 20 years, we’ve only had one. It has been the most successful period in our history. And in any case, how do we know that Tom Hopper/Simon Cox/Theo Robinson won’t get 20 this season? Just because they haven’t in the past, doesn’t mean they aren’t capable. Yes, some strikers are more likely to score goals than others. Fortune, for example, was never going to be a 20GASS. Whether a striker will score goals depends on the environment around them, how they connect with their team mates and how the style of play suits them. Would Jamie Vardy have had that incredible season for Leicester without Kante stopping opposition attacks in his own half and feeding Mahrez who spotted his runs?

Let’s not forget that having someone who bags loads of goals is no guarantee of a successful season (although undeniably it helps). Of the 11 clubs represented above, four did win promotion. The other seven did not. In League One, Peterborough and Portsmouth flirted with the play-offs, much like ourselves, but fell short.

Chris Powell has brought in Tom Hopper as his main striker signing this summer. He will have done so taking many things into account – contract status, age, wage demands, attributes, whether he will settle into the area, personality, temperament and his previous record – he scored nine goals last season in League One which, considering he was in and out of the side, nods to potential. But to label any player as a 20GASS in a pre-season is a nonsense, and perhaps supporters need to manage their expectations a little.