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What we learned from Colchester United’s defeat at Crewe

PUBLISHED: 13:29 19 March 2017 | UPDATED: 13:29 19 March 2017

U's keeper Sam Walker looks to the floor as Chris Dagnall (not pictured) celebrates scoring his side's second goal in Crewe's 2-0 win on Saturday. Picture: RICHARD BLAXALL

U's keeper Sam Walker looks to the floor as Chris Dagnall (not pictured) celebrates scoring his side's second goal in Crewe's 2-0 win on Saturday. Picture: RICHARD BLAXALL

2017 Pagepix

Carl Marston takes a look at the main storylines from Colchester United’s 2-0 defeat at Crewe on Saturday.

Tarique Fosu produced a lively second-half performance for the U's, and peppered the target on several occasions, including with this shot. Picture: RICHARD BLAXALLTarique Fosu produced a lively second-half performance for the U's, and peppered the target on several occasions, including with this shot. Picture: RICHARD BLAXALL

In a nutshell

‘It never rains, but it pours’ – that proverbial phrase sums up Colchester United’s latest woeful weekend experience.

The U’s suffered short-term and long-term blows to their play-off hopes, as they continued to struggle on the road at lowly Crewe on a wet Saturday.

The match was in serious doubt up until half-an-hour before the scheduled kick-off, due to heavy rain leaving surface water on the Gresty Road pitch, and the U’s will probably now have wished that referee Graham Horwood had called it off.

Ground-staff work hard to clear the pitch of water at Gresty Road during the final hour before kick-off. The match survived two pitch inspections, although kick-off was delayed until 3.15pm. Picture: RICHARD BLAXALLGround-staff work hard to clear the pitch of water at Gresty Road during the final hour before kick-off. The match survived two pitch inspections, although kick-off was delayed until 3.15pm. Picture: RICHARD BLAXALL

Not only did the U’s suffer the short-term blow of dropping another three points, courtesy of Chris Dagnall’s brace, but they also picked up yet another long-term injury with Sammie Szmodics breaking his leg inside the first few minutes.

Szmodics was all set to add another much-needed spark to the U’s top-seven bid, during the final few weeks of the season, having only just returned from ankle surgery.

The 21-year-old had endured two ankle operations in the last 12 months, the last of them in January, but had bounced back in style with two goals in his first three outings, with the equaliser at Cambridge and the second against Mansfield in midweek.

However, his fourth comeback appearance was cruelly cut short by his own challenge on Chris Dagnall, inside the first 10 minutes, which left him limping off the pitch and eventually being stretchered off to hospital.

Matthew Briggs of Colchester United does battle with Oliver Turton of Crewe AlexandraMatthew Briggs of Colchester United does battle with Oliver Turton of Crewe Alexandra

Ensuing X-rays revealed that Szmodics had broken his leg, another bitter pill to swallow.

Ironically Dagnall, the player he fouled in making the challenge, went on to score both goals, one in each half, as Crewe eased their relegation fears.

The Railwaymen are now 13 points clear of the drop zone, and so effectively safe from the threat of a second successive relegation, while the U’s have slipped to 11th spot, four places and four points off the play-offs, with eight games remaining.

John McGreal’s men were very poor in the first half, but they improved markedly in the second period and certainly had the chances to take at least a point.

Rekeil Pyke squandered the best of these chances, on 56 minutes, when his close-range header was blocked by keeper Ben Garratt.

Dagnall bagged the first of his two goals in the 26th minute, beating Sam Walker with a diving header from George Cooper’s teasing free-kick.

And the 30-year-old killed off the game with his ninth goal of the season, and the seventh in his last six appearances, on 83 minutes. An on-song Dagnall tucked home a low cross by Callum Cooke, from close-in, to cap a miserable afternoon for the Essex visitors.

Touch-and-go

Saturday’s match was only given the go-ahead after a couple of pitch inspections, following heavy rain at lunchtime.

In fact, when referee Graham Horwood initially inspected the pitch at 2pm, he was contemplating calling off the game there-and-then, but delayed a final decision until taking another look at 2.30pm.

Members of the ground-staff swept surface water from the pitch and Mr Horwood wasted little time in giving the match the green light after his brief second inspection. It was certainly not the ideal build-up, for either side, but the U’s cannot blame that uncertainty for their lack-lustre first-half showing.

On the road

The U’s have still not won away from home in 2017, with four defeats and three draws.

That poor record looks like ultimately costing them a play-off berth.

Injury crisis deepens

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, then the U’s injury curse strikes yet again.

So many regular first-teamers have been sidelined long-term this campaign, including defenders Luke Prosser, Tom Eastman, Frankie Kent and Lewis Kinsella, the midfield duo of Doug Loft and Craig Slater, plus strikers Kurtis Guthrie and Denny Johnstone.

And now Szmodics, who has endured a nightmarish last 12 months with ankle problems, has seen his recent return cruelly curtailed by a broken leg.

Next up

The U’s have five home games remaining, and four of these are against top-five sides.

Fifth-placed Luton are the next visitors to the Community Stadium, next Saturday, while pace-setters Doncaster, second-placed Plymouth and fourth-placed Stevenage will also visit in April.

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