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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What goes up must come down

After their relegation to League Two was confirmed at the weekend, Nobes analyses the future for Southend United.

Southend fans are facing up to the prospect of League Two next season

There's a thought that football, like life, goes in cycles. For Southend, after Saturday's 2-2 draw at Oldham, that cycle is complete.

The result at Boundary Park condemned the financially troubled Essex side to relegation to League Two.

It also completes a six-season journey which took them from the basement division to the Championship and back again.

It's not the first time a team have had such a similar rise and fall down the ladder. However, Southend's has all come under the management of Steve Tilson.

From their play-off final win over Lincoln in May 2005, to life in the second tier after lifting the League One title.

Tilson led the club into games against the likes of Birmingham and Sunderland in their one season stay in the Championship. Next term it'll be Burton and Stevenage on the fixture list.

The popular 43-year-old, who spent the majority of his playing career at Roots Hall before joining the coaching staff, had been at the heart of the club's renaissance.

Relegation back to League Two will hurt him more than anyone - particularly in the manner it has happened.

The Shrimpers have been beset by off-field money troubles - owing huge amounts to Customs & Revenues. At times, the future of the club has been in doubt as they have struggled to stay afloat.

Indeed, the future could still be perilous, with the club only narrowly avoiding a winding-up order in the past week.

It was also the determining factor in the sale of striker Lee Barnard to Southampton in the January transfer window.

Barnard had notched 17 goals for United before his move to St Mary's. When he left, Southend were 14th in the division - five points clear of the drop zone.

Since his departure, they've won just once in 19 games - a disastrous run of results which have conspired to send them down to League Two with still two matches of the campaign left to play.

Now the manager, and club, must face up to a difficult decision.

Does he stick with 'his' club in their hour of need and help turn things around? Or, does he decide that he needs a fresh challenge, a new set of surroundings, and try to further his career?

After all, staying on with the Shrimpers just because of his loyalty to the club isn't necessarily the right thing to do. If he lacks the same energy and hunger needed to drive a club to success, he must move on.

If he would be going through the motions at Roots Hall - continually frustrated by the financial restrictions - then he must do the right thing by the club.

Southend boss Tilson is the fifth longest serving manager in the Football League

After all, two relegations will not diminish a CV that once had him being linked to Championship jobs. Keeping Southend in the second tier was always unrealistic, and matters off the pitch have been the biggest factor in their demise this term.

Tilson has a reputation for building teams who play good football, and his two promotions and one play-off failure at Southend will ensure he remains an option for any vacant managerial posts.

If he has the wish to test himself at a higher level, if he thinks he deserves the chance at a bigger club, or that his time at Roots Hall has runs its course, he must leave.

Not that that's the scenario the club wish to see. Their decision to remove Tilson's long-serving deputy, Paul Brush, earlier in the campaign smacked of a club who thought a new approach was necessary, but were unwilling to change their manager.

Perhaps they should be applauded for their loyalty, after all, Tilson is largely blameless in Southend's current troubles. It's also doubtful whether a change of manager would have seen a turn around in fortunes.

Club chairman Ron Martin has publically backed his manager - recognising his part in the club's original success - and understands Tilson knows what it takes to win promotion.

The manager has stated this week that "he's not a quitter" and his chairman is already discussing sitting down with him and sorting out a new contract.

It must be a decision made with the head though - and not the heart - if Southend's cycle is to start over again.

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