Old foes locking horns

Animated Phil Brown Manager of Southend United

Animated Phil Brown Manager of Southend United - Credit: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

The last time Gary Johnson and Phil Brown faced each other on the touchline, the venue was Wembley Stadium and the occasion was the 2008 Football League Championship Play-Off Final between Bristol City and Hull City, who won 1-0. 

On Saturday, the pair go head-to-head again as Torquay United and Southend United both try to kickstart their seasons and calm the nerves of worried fans on both sides. 

"You wouldn't have thought that the finalists from the biggest prize in football would be locking horns 13 years later in the fifth tier of English football," said Brown, who has managed Derby, Hull, Preston, Swindon and now Southend twice. 

"I have always really respected Gary, and the bottom line is that he's a blooming good manager," Brown told the Southend Echo. 

He offered his commiserations over United's NL Play-Off Final defeat last season and wondered whether they had quite got over it, but added: "It wouldn't surprise me at all if they were there or thereabouts at the end of the season." 

Johnson is not thought to have any new worries ahead of selection. 

Goalkeeper Mark Halstead appears to have recovered from the bug which saw him ill enough to be taken off at half-time in Tuesday's 2-1 defeat at Solihull Moors and, although sidelined trio Jake Andrews, Armani Little and Tom Lapslie are all doubts, they are not long-term absentees. 

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Whether Johnson manages to strengthen his squad in time - United have developed a habit of completing signings only hours before matches these days - remains to be seen, but he has two obvious attacking options. 

Striker Klaidi Lolos made an impact off the bench and scored at Solihull, and new winger Alex Addai also lifted the mood. 

Of former Spurs starlet Addai, Johnson said: "I took him to Cheltenham (2018), I wasn't there long. 

"He's got something special - pace and power - but those people often can't run marathons, like midfield players. 

"He knows what I'm after, and it's just a matter of getting him fit if he's going to be a constant threat." 

United have made plenty of worse starts to seasons, in terms of points, than this. But the fact is that they have lost their first three home league games for the first time since 1961/62, and they have never lost the first four. 

Southend have struggled on and off the field in recent years, and it culminated in their relegation last season. 

They have taken only a point more than Torquay, and they come to Plainmoor after successive defeats to FC Halifax Town (1-3) and home to previously pointless Aldershot Town (2-3) on Tuesday night. 

Brown's squad has plenty of experience at this and League Two level, with players like goalkeeper Steve Arnold (Shrewsbury, Northampton), defenders Jason Demetriou, 35-year-old John White (Colchester), Josh Coulson (Leyton Orient) and ex-Woking full-back Nathan Ralph. 

The attack is currently being led by former Dagenham, FGR, Yeovil and Gulls loanee Rhys Murphy and ex-Leeds youngster Sam Dalby, but summer signing Abu Ogogo from Bristol Rovers is back in training after a hamstring injury and may feature. 

The referee is Scott Jackson from Somerset.