25 Nov 2021 by John Edwards

Fred Welsman presents: 'A View from the Opposition'

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Ahead of the first-ever meeting between Southend and Altrincham, Fred Welsman spoke to Chris Phillips, Chief Sports Reporter for the Southend Echo, to discuss the Shrimpers' recent struggles and whether he thinks newly-appointed manager Kevin Maher is the right man to lead them out of their current situation.

Q: What is the general perception of Altrincham FC amongst Southend fans? Did many know who we were prior to your relegation from the Football League?

A: I obviously can’t speak too much for other fans, but I remember, a few years ago, I did a "Where are they now?" feature with former Southend striker Neil Tolson, and he was with Altrincham at the time, so that was probably the first time the club really appeared on my radar. 

Obviously, the two clubs have never played each other before, so there are no memories on the pitch or anything just yet, but I’m looking forward to my first visit on Saturday and seeing a new ground. You’ve had two good results recently, though, so it’s looking like another tough game for Southend.

Q: How was your transfer activity over the summer period and how did pre-season go after such a difficult campaign last season?

A: That seems such a long time ago now! Recruitment has been an ongoing problem for Southend and, in truth, it was a similar story where that was concerned in the summer.

Southend are lacking in pace, power, strength and athleticism, and that definitely points towards poor signings being made in the summer, but I do realise it’s probably been hard to attract players to the club in recent seasons, given how bad it’s been.

Q: Were Southend fans expecting an immediate return to League Two or were people more realistic about the competitive nature of the National League?

A: I don’t think anyone really expected Southend to be challenging for promotion this season. Things have been so bad for so long here that it’s not suddenly going to click back into place; it’s going to take quite some time.

Southend have been in a mess on and off the pitch for a while now, but there have been quite a few changes in the backroom team recently and I just hope things can start to improve now. This season is already all about picking up enough points to stay up.

Q: What has the season been like so far? Can you explain why the results and performances haven’t been up to scratch?

A: Put simply, because the team isn’t good enough. I think Kevin Maher has taken on one of the very toughest jobs in football, but one of the best things about his appointment is that he’s coming into this with his eyes very much open to everything.

In the past, I think managers have come in and been left quite shocked when they realise just how bad certain things are. But Kev already knows everything, so that will help. The club also have a chief executive for the first time in five years, and I think that’s another step in the right direction. But going back to your question, Southend are lacking in key areas and will continue to struggle until that can be addressed.

Q: How did the fans feel about the return of Kevin Maher?

A: Kev is a club legend for everything he achieved here as a player, and I think most supporters viewed his appointment positively. Darren Currie and Mark Bentley came in alongside him and, since then, Stan Collymore and John Still have come in as well, so there’s a lot of experience there.

Q: Can you see a clear style of play that Maher is trying to implement or is that still being constructed, do you think?

A: I think it’s too early where that’s concerned, really, because Blues are lacking in certain areas and that’s almost dictated the way Kevin has had to play so far. I’m sure, long-term, Kev has a certain way he wants to play - in fact I know he has! But that’s probably not been possible so far, due to injuries and areas in which the squad is still weak.

Q: Who are the key players for Southend and who should the Alty fans be keeping an eye out for?

A: Rhys Murphy is the top scorer with seven goals so far this season, so he’s the main threat in front of goal, but attacking midfielder Zak Brunt has played well since signing on loan from Sheffield United. He looks to have a bright future in the game.

Q: What is your prediction for the game this weekend?

A: You’d have to make Altrincham favourites, to be honest. Southend need to start turning things around after falling into the bottom three, so I’ll be more optimistic and say 1-1.

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