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Monday, July 12, 2010

Sturrock and a hard place

After their appointment of Paul Sturrock, Nobes looks at why troubled Southend United might just have the right man for the right occasion.

Paul Sturrock has a successful track record in the lower leagues

They've had even more cause than usual to be feeling blue down at Southend of late.

The Shrimpers relegation back to League Two last season brought to a close a successful spell under Steve Tilson. It had included successive promotions, and a year spent in the Championship.

The future, it seemed, was bright again for United - after years spent toiling in the basement division.

It appeared, too, that the popular Tilson - who it would be harsh to blame their demotion on - would be remaining at Roots Hall, determined to take the club back up again.

However, chairman Ron Martin's decision to put Tilson on 'gardening leave' and end his manager's seven-year reign indicated that he was determined to move onto pastures new.

Whether the change is a result of the club's relegation is unknown. It seems strange that a move would be made so long after the end of the season if that was the reason.

At the time, I spoke about the difficult decision that both club and manager would now have to make. Tilson, it appears was willing to continue, but Martin has decided that a change of direction is what's called for.

In hindsight, the removal of Tilson's assistant, Paul Brush, towards the end of last season was probably an indication that the man at the helm was beginning to have doubts about whether the manager should also continue.

The swiftness of the appointment of Tilson's successor is also a sign that this had been a move long in the planning, and not simply a knee-jerk decision based on a breakdown in the pair's relationship.

Enter Paul Sturrock. The appointment of the experienced Scot is somewhat of a coup for Southend, and one that should earn Martin some rare praise.

It is, unsurprisingly - and probably justifiably - the chairman who has borne most of the anger and frustration of unhappy Blues fans.

The Essex club have suffered huge financial problems, the squad has been largely decimated, and Sturrock finds any rebuilding job hampered by a transfer embargo.

A meeting at the High Court over unpaid bills last week saw them given a fortnight to prove that they are in a sound-enough financial state to avoid being put into administration.

United at Southend: Ron Martin and Steve Tilson in happier times

It's a far cry from a few years ago when talk was of a brand new stadium as part of plans to establish themselves back in the second tier of English football.

All of which begs the question why on earth Sturrock would have signed up for such a fire-fighting job? Worried Shrimpers fans must hope that he only agreed to join after being given the assurances by Martin about the club's future.

If so, and the club can find a way to survive off the field of play then, despite their money troubles, they can prosper next season under Sturrock's guidance.

Rarely can a club in such trouble have been fortunate enough to appoint a new manager with a more impressive track record than that of his predecessor. However, the -year-old has a sound record in the lower divisions.

In 2002, he took Plymouth Argyle to the League Two title securing a record number of points. That was despite three quarters of their Home Park ground being re-developed at one stage or another during the season.

Two years later, and he had led the Pilgrims to the brink of the League One championship and promotion to the second tier before answering the call from top flight Southampton.

He next took over at Sheffield Wednesday midway through the 2004/5 campaign and managed to secure promotion to the Championship through the end of season play-offs.

His other Football League promotion - with League Two Swindon in 2007 - was also achieved despite only taking over the reins from Dennis Wise midway through the season.

It's a record which shows a man who not only knows how to win promotion - but how to achieve success in a short space of time. Southend will be hoping he can work similar miracles at Roots Hall in the coming season.

However, they must also learn to accommodate a change of culture under their new man. Sturrock's own brand of quick-fix remedying is based around a direct, no frills approach to playing the game.

Fans accustomed to seeing their side trying to pass their way to success under Tilson will have to re-acquaint themselves with a more pragmatic, less exciting, spectacle every Saturday afternoon.

However, in their current state, it is results on the pitch which must take precedent over any issues of style. Sturrock should ensure that the ship is steadied and begins to point in the right direction once more.

That should be more than good enough for Southend. As the old saying goes - beggars cannot afford to be choosers.

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