IR­ISH EYES ARE SMIL­ING AGAIN AT SOUTHEND

The Football League Paper - - LEAGUE ONE - By Char­lie Bennett

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

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