After a winless September, Phil Brown’s Southend were determined to get back to winning ways in a month which would see the Blues feature six times.
However, results would soon show that the National League was no pushover for Blues and with early signs of regional football looming, some big changes were ahead as Southend looked to stop the rot.
The first of a season defining month saw Blues make the trip to Birmingham as they faced future play-off finalists Solihull Moors…
Moor pain for Blues
Despite five changes from the team that lost 1-0 to Torquay, Phil Brown’s experienced side slumped to a fourth consecutive defeat at the SportNation.bet Stadium.
In torrential rain, Blues’ afternoon did show some signs of brightness as debutant Charlie Sayers tried his luck from distance but failed to test goalkeeper Ryan Boot. As the half continued though, it was the Moors who grew into the game, with Joe Sbarra playing a drilled effort into the box, which was turned into his own net by Shaun Hobson in the 29th minute.
Indeed, the score almost doubled before the half time whistle, when Andrew Dallas sent an audacious 25-yard volley towards Steve Arnold’s net which drifted just wide.
Neal Ardley’s side looked to take advantage of Blues’ frailties and almost did just that in the 49th minute through Jordan Cranston, but his free kick was punched onto the crossbar by Steve Arnold. That save proved to delay the inevitable though as James Ball doubled Solihull’s lead just five minutes later, leading Blues to slump to 21st in the league, just out of the relegation zone on goal difference.
Tuesday night delight
Although October may usually seem too early to discuss relegation fears, Phil Brown and his side would’ve been well aware of the trepidation that many fans were feeling as they headed back to Roots Hall, looking for their first home win of the season.
There were yet more changes from Brown, five to be exact, including Simeon Akinola who was a surprise selection.
Blues were perhaps fortunate they didn’t fall behind to the Spitfires as a number of good opportunities were wasted by the visitors, the best falling to Joe Low nodding over the crossbar from six yards after a good corner from Tom Whelan.
With frustrations beginning to show in the stands, Blues got go-ahead goal through a thunderbolt of an effort from Nathan Ferguson with 20 minutes left on the clock.
With little more action, Blues secured just their second victory of the season, and were looking to build on that with a tough test against Chesterfield to follow.
Sleepwalking into the abyss
After a crucial victory at home to Eastleigh, Blues were looking to turn a corner when James Rowe’s Chesterfield made the trip to Roots Hall. Unfortunately, though, October 9th, 2021, would become a date remembered for all the wrong reasons.
Manager Phil Brown brought in on-loan winger Benjamin Kimpioka to partner with 19-year-old Hamzad Kargbo, who both offered little threat against the Spireites.
After a cagey opening 15 minutes, Chesterfield took the lead through Danny Rowe as he found the bottom left corner from 20 yards. It was almost an immediate response from Blues through Kimpioka, but the youngster couldn’t convert after rounding Scott Loach.
Rowe then punished Blues and doubled his tally, and his side’s lead, in the 40th minute after firing past Steve Arnold at the near post.
After a gruelling 45 minutes, the worst was yet to come for Blues in the second half as Rowe turned provider for Jeff King, who made it 3-0 for the Spireites. Frustrations began to show amongst the Blues faithful, who were fearful of a third successive slip down the footballing ladder, and after Rowe secured his hat-trick in the 73rd minute, a number of supporters took to the pitch in protest and to voice their concerns at the club’s direction which brought about a long delay.
After a 4-0 defeat, and Blues sitting just one point off the relegation zone, not long after the full time whistle Southend United parted ways with manager Phil Brown, and his assistant manager Craig Fagan, and immediately began the search for a new manager, with the club’s hierarchy set to make crucial decisions in the weeks to come as they looked to lay the foundations for a successful future.
The Road to Wembley
With the search for a new managerial team continuing, defender Jason Demetriou took to the dugout as his side faced Isthmian League South Central side Chertsey Town in the Fourth Qualifying round of the FA Cup.
And Demetriou would become aware of the challenging task ahead when just six minutes into his managerial debut, it was the eighth-tier side who took the lead through Casey Maclaren, who headed past Harry Seaden from a long throw sending the 237 away fans into raptures.
Despite all the early pressure heading the way of The Curfews, it was Blues who netted the next goal, Nathan Ferguson volleying home the equaliser in the 14th minute; it would be the midfielder’s last goal in a Blues shirt.
Blues’ professionalism grew as the clock ticked on, and it was Demetriou’s men who took the lead in the 34th minute, as Jack Bridge skipped past Lewis Jackson with pace and power before sending a teasing ball in for Rhys Murphy, who tapped home for his fourth goal since joining from Yeovil Town.
Nathan Ralph then added a third in the 72nd minute, impressively heading past Nicholas Jupp from a Jack Bridge corner. With one foot in the next round, Blues continued their pressure and substitute Louis Walsh capitalised on a divided backline to slot past Jupp to end the game 4-1 to Southend.
A hero returns
Blues concluded their search for a new management team on the 20th October, when it was announced club legend Kevin Maher would return to the club following a rigorous interview process.
Maher, a two-time promotion winner who made over 450 appearances for Blues as a player, returned to the club after a coaching career which had seen him take charge of National League South outfit Chelmsford City, as well as spells as Blues’ u21 boss and playing a crucial role in Bristol Rovers’ backroom staff.
The Irishman was joined by fellow 2005/06 promotion winner Mark Bentley as First Team coach, who was manager of a Canvey Island team who sat top of their league, and Darren Currie as Assistant Head Coach.
Maher stated, “I’m delighted to be back and can’t wait to get started and hopefully help the club move in the right direction.”
Derby day defeat
Any fans who were hopeful that new head coach Kevin Maher would inspire immediate change were given a rude awakening at the Chigwell Construction Stadium when a six-minute bombardment saw Dagenham & Redbridge condemn Blues to 21st place in the National League.
It was the first time Blues and the Daggers had met since 2015, a year before the East London club were relegated to the fifth tier, and it was Maher’s men who started the better of the two when Jack Bridge found Sam Dalby who headed just wide.
Backed by over 1,300 fans, which made up close to half the overall attendance, Southend again tried to give their faithful something to cheer, but six minutes in the second half undone the hard work shown. In the 52nd minute, Mo Sagaf slotted past Harry Seaden after some neat footwork from Junior Balanta before Myles Weston picked out Sam Ling who rose highest to head home for Dagenham.
Darryl McMahon’s ruthless side sealed the three points in the 58th minute when Sam Ling got his second goal in as many minutes as he looped his header over Harry Seaden to wrap up what was a disappointing afternoon for the Seasiders.
Signs of improvement
Blues ended October with defeat at Boreham Wood but put in a spirited performance in Hertfordshire. After a full week of training under new head coach Kevin Maher, the Irishman made four changes to the side that lost to Dagenham and handed debuts to Zak Brunt and Kacper Lopata, the duo joining on loan from Championship side Sheffield United.
Blues battled hard against The Wood and some exciting play from Brunt almost led to a goal for the away side, but his effort was blocked by Gus Mufuta. Steve Arnold, returning to the side following a spell away due to injury, showed Blues fans just what they had been missing with some crucial saves and kept out a flurry of chances from Kane Smith and Mafuta.
The Essex side were dealt a huge blow when referee Aaron Jackson showed Abu Ogogo two yellow cards in a matter of a seconds, leaving Blues with 10 men.
With the man advantage, Boreham Wood managed to break the deadlock through Tyrone Marsh as he sent his side to the summit of the league, whilst Blues remained in 21st and sat above the relegation zone on goal difference.
After a month of despair, Blues could look forward under the stewardship of club legend Kevin Maher as the Irishman looked to spearhead change both on and off the pitch, with five more fixtures to follow in November…