An upturn in the fortunes of Southend United is on the way, predicts captain Adam Barrett half-way through the "toughest" season he has so far had with the club he has supported from childhood and has enjoyed good times with as a player.
Since arriving at Roots Hall from Bristol Rovers in the 2004 close season, central defender Barrett has helped the Shrimpers to two promotions and a Football League Trophy Final, plus - after relegation from the Coca-Cola Championship in 2007 - a run to the League 1 Play-Offs in 2008.
After finishing two places below the League 1 Play-Off spots last term, however, the current campaign has seen United struggling to keep up with the promotion pace and they have entered the new year lying an unpromising 13th in the table.
Barrett said: "It's certainly been a difficult season so far, the toughest I've had in the six years I've been here. Off the field the club has had financial problems and on the playing side we've got a very small squad, so small that at times injuries have meant we've not been able to fill the substitutes' bench.
"We've had young lads playing in various positions, players having to play out of position and team changes forced week-in, week-out. It's no wonder we've had some inconsistency, but in the circumstances I think we've done well to be in mid-table."
A much-wanted promotion back to the Championship is perhaps beyond the Shrimpers this year. But, says the skipper, with some bright youngsters coming through the ranks and a new stadium on the horizon the club has a bright future.
"The fans are excited about the new stadium," said 30-year-old Barrett, "and although there've been one or two hold-ups in progress I'm just as excited myself as a player who was brought up watching Southend and is now very proud to captain the club.
"In the time I've been here I feel we've made good strides as a club, and although the squad has changed totally - apart from me! - in these last six years we've got a group of people who are working their socks off for the club - and that's everybody behind the scenes as well as what's happening on the pitch.
"What we need on the playing side is a more settled team, hopefully a bigger squad, and a bit more consistency. It may be a season too soon for us in terms of promotion - it would take one helluva run for us to get right up there. But if we can get the stability into the club that we need, we can certainly make a challenge."
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