After being knocked out on penalties against Oxford in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday night, Sunderland host Southend United at the Stadium of Light today.
Phil Parkinson’s men sit 8th on the League One table after a run of inconsistent results, whereas the Shrimpers sit anxiously in 22nd place having only won one of their 15 league games so far.
Southend avoided relegation on the penultimate game of last season through beating Sunderland 2-1 at Roots Hall. The game will be former England international Sol Campbell’s first away match as manager of the club.
Ahead of the match, I spoke to Jai Forsyth - co-editor of All At Sea Fanzine - to hear his perspective on how things have been going down at Southend, and to find out how he felt things would pan out in today’s game on Wearside.
MC: Southend have just employed former Arsenal and Tottenham centre back Sol Campbell as manager. He won a variety of trophies playing at the pinnacle of English football throughout his career, as well as successfully avoiding relegation from League Two as manager of Macclesfield last season. Do you believe he is the right man to take the club forward?
L: Yes. Macclesfield players spoke of his professional approach and this is exactly what this squad of players needs. Sol has already identified the problems quickly and while it is going to take time to turn us round, I believe that long term he is the right person to try and improve things here.
MC: Sitting on five points, Southend’s start to this season has been nothing short of disgraceful - after staying up last season on goal difference with 50 points, where has it all gone wrong from then to now?
L: It all started about three years ago with a failure to replace our CEO. Since then our recruitment has been dreadful and we’ve ended up paying average players a lot of money.
Our chairman is trying to do everything himself, and is not capable.
There have been injury issues, resulting in issues with fitness and loss of confidence. Morale is at rock bottom and we’re struggling to name a bench. Several players signed by Kevin Bond in the summer don’t look up to standard.
MC: The Shrimpers have conceded 43 goals in 15 league matches this season, 15 more than bottom club Bolton Wanderers, what do you think Sol Campbell will do to prevent your team capitulating so regularly?
L: Sol has already made it clear his priorities are to improve communication, fitness and teamwork. The individual defenders are not terrible players but they are not knitting together. The goalkeeper seems to have no confidence in his back four and vice versa.
MC: Former Republic of Ireland international striker Simon Cox has been your top scorer throughout the past three seasons consistently reaching double figures - how important will his form be to Southend’s chances of escaping relegation?
L: Cox is an important player, but arguably his strike partner Tom Hopper’s year-long absence with a knee injury was one of the main reasons for our dreadful 2019. Now he is back, he will cause problems for defenders with his physicality and work rate, opening the door for Cox and Stephen Humphrys. Scoring goals is not our problem.
MC: Although results have been poor one player who has attracted attention is Southend’s 22-year-old striker Stephen Humphrys, who scored the winner against Sunderland last season. Sunderland in recent years have been stripped of their best players during difficult seasons, are you worried in your current predicament players will look to leave?
L: Humphrys has shown promise but we’re not worried about losing him yet - he’s nowhere near the finished article and he needs to improve his all-round game and be a more team-orientated striker like Tom Hopper.
He’s a talented individual though, still young and hopefully he can be a big player for us. Generally speaking, a club of our size always has and always will lose its best players. The key is to make sure we get fair recompense and replace them wisely.
We have not been doing that since our chief executive left.
MC: When I think about Southend my first memory is of your Championship team in 2006/07 that featured club legend Freddy Eastwood, do you ever think that if the club had avoided relegation that season you could have attempted to become an established Championship club?
L: Not without a new stadium. Roots Hall is not fit for purpose and was sold out every week in the Championship. It still hampers our ability to grow and every year we stay there, we fall further behind similar sized clubs to ourselves.
MC: Although in different circumstances, Southend like Sunderland are failing to meet their fans expectations this season - do you think there will be money available for Sol Campbell to bring in new players in January?
L: No more than usual, he’ll be shopping in the bargain bucket.
The issue is we have a lot of good earners still under contract with little chance of moving them on - a situation that will be familiar to Sunderland fans I am sure. Unless we can clear out a few of the high earning underachievers (of which there are many), we will struggle to recruit what we need.
MC: Southend have never won at the Stadium of Light but they have beaten Sunderland twice in a row at Roots Hall, do you think your team can defeat the odds and get a result?
L: Unfortunately Sol is just a man, not a miracle worker. The squad is so far behind even the worst other side in this league, and things will take time. It will take an absolutely incredible turn of events for us to get even a point.