Colchester United Talking Points: Proud Kensdale, lethal Szmodics, brilliant Pym
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Colchester United failed in their attempt to chalk up an eighth win from just 10 home league starts, but it was not for want of trying.
The U’s played well as a team, punctuated by several impressive individual displays, but in the end the heroics of Exeter keeper Christy Pym denied them a deserved victory.
Sammie Szmodics’ stunning 67th minute strike would have been worthy of winning any game, but having worked so hard to get their noses in front, the U’s saw their lead disappear just two minutes later.
The equaliser could not have been more of a contrast to Szmodics’ first-time screamer, as the Grecians finally buried from point blank range, at the third attempt, from a free-kick pumped hopefully into the box.
The Devon side have a real goal-poacher in Jayden Stockley, and it was he who bundled the ball over the line to notch his 11th goal of the season – only Tranmere’s James Norwood (13 goals) has scored more in League Two this season – in the process securing an unlikely point for his side.
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So two points dropped for the U’s, but Saturday was not a time to feel too down-heartened.
John McGreal’s men created countless chances, played with flair, and entertained their home fans.
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They remain on course for what should prove to be an exciting second half of the season.
OLLIE’S BIG DAY
Ollie Kensdale made history on Saturday, by becoming the first Colchester United player, born in the new Millennium, to make his Football League debut.
And the 18-year-old can be proud of his achievements, on his big day, playing alongside Frankie Kent in a very young back four.
Academy product Kensdale, handed his league debut due to the absence of fellow centre-halves Luke Prosser (suspended) and Tom Eastman (injury), delivered a calm and composed performance that defied his still tender years, and he also came close to breaking the deadlock inside the first few minutes with a shot that was blocked by keeper Pym.
The Colchester-born defender had made his first-team debut just 11 days earlier, in the EFL Checkatrade Trophy at Cambridge, where he played for an hour. But he played the full 90 minutes against the Grecians, alongside Kent (aged 23), Kane Vincent-Young (22) and Ryan Jackson (the senior partner at 28).
Kensdale will probably drop out of the team, for Tuesday evening’s away test at Forest Green Rovers, due to Prosser’s return from suspension, but he should be on the bench in the Cotswolds and he certainly confirmed his promise with a very satisfactory league debut.
THE MANDRON EFFECT
Mikael Mandron was the U’s second top scorer with 10 goals last season, having featured in all but two of the 46 league games and also been one of the first names on manager McGreal’s team-sheet every weekend.
But the Frenchman has had to bide his time this term, playing second fiddle to summer signings Luke Norris (eight goals) and Frank Nouble in the quest for the centre-forward role.
After 13 league outings as a substitute, Mandron finally got his chance from the start on Saturday, and although he didn’t score, and rarely looked like scoring, he did have a big impact on the game.
The presence of Mandron up top, with the emphasis on hard graft and endless running, freed up space for Szmodics to get on the ball and enjoy some scoring chances of his own.
The ploy worked well. Ex-Wigan front-man Mandron kept the Exeter defence on edge, while Szmodics registered countless goal attempts, perhaps more than he has managed in any one game all season.
It would be surprising if Mandron was not to retain his place at the New Lawn on Tuesday evening.
Sammie Szmodics has now bagged seven goals this season, and is on course to exceed last season’s tally of 13.
Saturday’s opener was one of the best of his career.
Trickster Courtney Senior set up the chance with some wonderful build-up play, but there was still much to do when Szmodics suddenly let fly with a thunderous 20-yard volley which flew like a rocket into the back of the net.
Alas, the U’s could not hold onto their lead for very long, although it was only the acrobatics of keeper Pym that had kept the scoreline blank for so long. The visitors’ No. 1 was inspired.