IRISH EYES ARE SMILING AGAIN AT SOUTHEND
IT’S almost four years since Stephen McLaughlin first arrived in England full of promise, but the midfielder says it is only now that he has found a settled home – on the Essex coast at Southend United.
McLaughlin was initially snapped up by Nottingham Forest in January 2013 from Irish side Derry City, but he failed to establish himself at the City Ground – making just 12 appearances in three seasons.
Loan spells at Bristol City and Notts County did not work either, and the 26year-old could be forgiven for glancing longingly across the Irish Sea, tempted by a move back home.
But, when Phil Brown took him to Southend on a short-term loan in 2015, his fortunes changed and he earned a permanent contract.
However, injuries limited him to 18 appearances last season, meaning it is only now that the man from Donegal is having a prolonged run of firstteam football.
He is quickly making up for lost time, appearing 24 times before the weekend and netting seven goals.
“This is the first time I have felt part of a team. I am now an important player, week in and week out and it is brilliant,” he said. “It is hard to explain what it does for your life – the confidence levels go through the roof.
“When you are not playing, you start to miss home and it all becomes a bit tough. But, if you want to achieve anything, you have to stick at it. I had an ankle injury last season which the specialist said was a freak. I came back and then got hurt again.
“Phil [Brown] always told me I was going to play a big part for the club.
“This season he has let me go. He has taken the handbrake off and told me to express myself.
“When you have a man like Phil Brown doing that, it takes your game to a whole new level.”
McLaughlin consistently scored for Derry in the League of Ireland. Alex McLeish was in charge when he arrived at Forest but was sacked a few weeks later and Billy Davies took over. Davies lasted just over a year, while Gary Brazil, Stuart Pearce and Dougie Freedman also had stints at the helm during McLaughlin’s two years at the City Ground – making it an unsettling place.
“I had five different managers and, coming across to England with no experience over here, meant it was hard to gain their trust,” he said.
Southend started the season poorly before going on a nine-match unbeaten run, including five wins.
“It is brilliant to arrive at Christmas like this, with the games coming thick and fast,” McLaughlin added. “A few weeks ago we were in the relegation zone and now we are flirting with the play-offs.”
HAPPY: Steven McLaughlin