Paul Sturrock's work has turned Southend United into formidable side
SOUTHEND UNITED, Torquay United's Saturday opponents at Plainmoor, are the sort of club everyone expects to be challenging for promotion every season.
But it's perhaps easy to forget that only two years and a half years ago, manager Paul Sturrock walked into a shambles of a club laid waste by huge financial problems and only a handful of senior players on the books.
The former Plymouth Argyle boss has steadily built up a squad which will surely finish in the top half of the table and has the potential to do better.
The Shrimpers just haven't put together the sort of consistent run which would see them up with the pacesetters yet.
Sturrock has always liked his defenders big and strong, and there's plenty of stature back there now.
Chris Barker (Barnsley, Cardiff, QPR, Plymouth), Ryan Creswell (Bury, Rotherham) and Mark Phillips (Millwall, Brentford) are all six-foot plus.
Malawi-born Tamika Mkandawire (WBA, Hereford, Leyton Orient, Millwall), who can play in defence or in midfield, isn't far behind them, and full-back Sean Clohessy (Gillingham, Salisbury) is also a solid citizen.
Sturrock has made plenty of changes in his midfield and attack, some of them forced by transfer sales of players like Ryan Hall and Kane Ferdinand.
Ex-Swindon player Michael Timlin has been around for a couple of seasons, but Sturrock brought in ex-Scunthorpe, Carlisle and Walsall midfielder Kevan Hurst during the summer and recently loaned Marc Laird from Leyton Orient.
There's no shortage of striking talent in the club, with fit-again Irish targetman Barry Corr (Sheff Wed, Swindon, Exeter), crowd favourite Freddy Eastwood back at his old club after big-money moves to Wolves and Coventry, and former Gulls marksman Elliot Benyon.
But the two players currently holding the call are 19-year-old Watford loanee Britt Assombalonga (see Player To Watch) and ex-Gulls loanee Gavin Tomlin, signed from Dagenham during the close-season.
Ex-trainee Daniel Bentley is the reserve goalkeeper.
Defensive options include Luke Prosser, former Plymouth starlet Ryan Leonard and ex-Aldershot full-back Anthony Straker.
Winger David Martin has been injured recently, but it wouldn't be a surprise if Sturrock turned to experienced midfielder John Spicer, signed from Notts County in August after spells with Bournemouth, Burnley and Doncaster.