By Brian Jeeves
SOUTHEND UNITED manager, Phil Brown, heaped praise on his Sky bet League One play-off chasing side after they turned around an early season slump to find themselves amongst the challenging pack as the regular season reaches its conclusion.
Blues were relegation candidates after twelve games, however, an upturn in form has seen Brown’s charges mount a serious challenge for a top-six spot. Speaking ahead of Saturday’s ‘must-win’ clash with relegation-threatened Shrewsbury Town at Greenhous Meadow, the Southend chief said: “I think since game twelve, 3-0 (defeat) away at Rochdale, I’ve said many a time, we’ve embraced the challenge. It is getting to that stage where we definitely need to win both games I think. But if you’d gave me the win on Saturday, taking us into the last week of the season still with a chance of promotion, or any stage of the season, I probably would have taken it.
“I think it’s credit to the players, credit to the mentality and the attitude of the players. Any team that were in the bottom three at any stage of the season, that’s nerves, anxiety, bottle. They showed more than enough to get out of that situation and climb the table.
“Even at Christmas, if you’d said we are going to be somewhere near the play-off’s come the end of the season, my word, I’d have jumped all over that as well.”
Brown believe Shrewsbury would offer his side a stern test but pointed to his side’s improvement since they last met in a 1-1 draw at Roots Hall back in October: “Last time we played them I think they were above us in the league, he continued. “That shows you what I’m talking about, how much these players have come to the party. I think there’s a lot of pride in what we’ve done, but there’s no sense in getting to two games to go then not achieving. It’s important that we take this into the last game of the season.
“They are a decent side. They have had a little bit of hardship in terms of hitting teams at the wrong time. I spoke to Paul (Hurst, Shrewsbury manager) on a couple of occasions, he’s had big injuries to his side as well. When he came in in January, he made the changes that he’s made, bringing five or six loan players in. He got rid of four or five, it has been a massive turn-around during the course of the season.
“It’s unnecessary upheaval, but he thought it was right to do it. He’s been proved right to tell you the truth because he’s got a chance of getting out of the relegation battle that he’s in.”
Brown explained that defender, Ben Coker, is a doubt ahead of the trip to Shropshire, adding: “ He came out and did a full session yesterday. I was hoping that he was going to play a major role in the game on Saturday. But he’s still feeling it a little bit and I don’t want to put him into a game and he breaks down.
“He’s a feisty character, a hardy lad and he wants it to be fair to him. But it will probably be too much of risk. We’ll assess the situation today and tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, Blues loan-goalkeeper, Christian Walton, said: “We are looking at Saturday now. We have two big games and we are aiming for six points out of the two.
“I think we’ve just got to keep consistent and keep doing the right things.
“We are hoping that if we can do our thing on the pitch everything will fall into place. Six points are our aim from the next two games.”
“I don’t think we can look at anyone else performances and results until we have done our bit. Obviously, they (Shrewsbury) are fighting for their lives and will be up for the game. We’ve just got to match them.”