It was never going to be an easy season for Kyle Taylor and Southend United, and while the loanee was unable to avert League Two relegation he did continue to build upon the solid foundation of his fledgling career in his first full season away from Bournemouth.
Signed by his former Cherries under-21s coach Mark Molesley, Taylor’s tale begins at the end of the year with a challenge symptomatic of his time at Roots Hall: out of the team, with a new manager to prove his worth to.
He picked up the story with afcb.co.uk: “I knew Mark Molesley well and I have quite a good relationship with him, but everyone knows football can change quickly so when Phil Brown came in it was about adapting as quickly as I could to leave a mark on him.
“I was left out of the squad entirely for the first two weeks after he came in, at that point how could I rise to the challenge? I think I did that well in training, doing what I needed to do to get back into the team.
“After that two weeks I came on in the next game and after that started the last few games. I was happy with the way I was able to turn it around.
“It’s the same for any player, it’s about controlling what you can do personally and leave the manager with no decision but to play you.”
TOUGH TASK FROM THE OFF
Brown had returned to the Shrimpers with just six games to go and the side five points adrift of the safety mark, Taylor’s return to the starting line-up for the final three fixtures coinciding with two wins and a draw as United finished just short of their target.
Taylor had previously earned his first EFL stripes on loan at Forest Green in 2019/20, but with a full season in prospect with Southend, the midfielder knew from the outset that the gauntlet put down would be a testing one.
“As soon as I saw the interest I knew it was going to be that way from the start,” he said. “There were so many ups and downs all the way through and we ended up getting relegated unfortunately.
“My appearances came in different spells, I’d start to build up some progress then I’d pick up an injury, or there was another time when I struggled with Covid for two weeks and had to build my fitness up back from that… Then there was the change of management as well.
“The main thing for me was just the experience of being part of a first team environment, going away and getting that game time was the biggest highlight for me and having a lot of games in one season.
“Towards the end when we had more players fit and we started to believe a bit we didn’t lose many games, having quite a good run. Through the season it was just the consistency that we lacked.”
BUILDING FROM A BASE
In total, the 22-year-old made 31 appearances during the spell, 21 of them starts, along with scoring his first EFL goal as he beautifully controlled a long-range volley in a 3-1 win over Grimsby.
The shortened season also upped the ante, packing in the same number of fixtures as normal. Taylor reported on the gruelling nature of the campaign and how he got to grips with it.
He explained: “It’s not like we could fly to the games, so when we played away on a Saturday at Carlisle then back at home on the Tuesday it was a lot of travelling.
“You did get used to it and it was about being ready for every challenge, not getting too high with the highs or too low with the lows.
“The toughest thing for all of us was with building that confidence up, especially at the start of the season when we had a run of losses, it felt like we were never going to get any points.
“As long as you tried to get the basics down, which I think we did, it was then about building up from there.
“It was just disappointing that we couldn’t ever get that run of games together that we needed, and had a lot of injuries – a lot of teams did, so that’s no excuse – we never seemed to find the rhythm until later on in the season.”
LASHINGS OF LEARNINGS
With a full year of first-team action now under his belt, Taylor has returned to the Cherries for the summer and upcoming pre-season, buoyed by everything he’s picked up from his time away from his hometown club.
“Now I know the expectations of playing men’s football every week rather than under-21s football, which isn’t the same,” he said.
“It was a difficult season without fans being there, it wasn’t a true experience in that way – but it’s about bringing the same thing every week and building that consistency with games Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday, Tuesday.
“How can you recover from the Saturday and then go again on Tuesday? That’s both mentally and physically, especially when you’re in a tough position all season and we were dealing with that.
“When you’re up the top of the table I think it’s a lot easier but when things are going wrong it’s about learning what you can do, going back to basics and pushing on from there.
“I was massively disappointed to get relegated, after spending a full season there it felt like it was a part of me as well.
“But it was a great experience for me to get out, have regular football every week, unfortunately not in front of a crowd, but it’s something I definitely want to look to do is to play regular football.”