By Tony Leighton
A local derby against npower League 2 pace-setters Gillingham is the perfect way to kick-off the new year for Southend United, says captain Chris Barker as the Shrimpers look to put their promotion drive back into gear after a disappointing end to 2012.
A 14-match unbeaten run was brought to an abrupt end by a 2-0 defeat at Burton Albion, but Barker's team stayed fourth in the table and are determined to get the better of the second-placed Gills at Roots Hall on New Year's Day.
The Shrimpers' skipper told football-league.co.uk: "The quicker we put Saturday's disappointing result behind us the better, and we'll be aiming to take three points off Gillingham and put ourselves back on the right road.
"If you want to bounce back from a defeat a local derby is a great way to do it. It will be a great game to be involved in - I'm sure there will be a big crowd and hopefully we can show the fans that the result at Burton was just a one-off.
"We've come a long way in the run we've had. A couple of months ago we were way down the table, but now we're fighting to take Gillingham's spot in the automatic promotion places and so we couldn't have a better incentive to beat them."
Barker and his team-mates are striving to go one better than last term, when they agonisingly failed by just a single point to clinch an automatic promotion place and then lost out to Crewe Alexandra in the Play-Off semi-final.
They then started the current campaign slowly, but in their recent unbeaten run - 10 games of which were in League 2 - the Shrimpers collected 22 points from the 30 on offer to shoot up the table and re-establish their promotion credentials.
Barker said: "We finished with 83 points last year and in a normal season that would give you automatic promotion. It was a bitter pull to swallow when we then lost in the Play-Offs, but after the run we've just had we believe we can finish in the top three.
"A lot of new players came into the squad this season and so it took a while to gel, but we've been going well of late. It wasn't our day at Burton, but you don't become a bad team overnight. We'll take it on the chin, re-group and be ready for Gillingham."
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