Talking points: Can U’s cope without the services of an injured Luke Norris
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So often, Colchester United’s home form has held them back, since moving to the Community Stadium 10 years ago.
But this season is different. In fact, the U’s have won more home league games than any other club from the top four divisions, no mean achievement.
Saturday’s latest home success, a narrow 1-0 victory over Swindon Town thanks to Sammie Szmodics’ winner in first-half stoppage time, was the U’s seventh from nine home starts this term.
In the process, it has propelled them into the top three for the first time since a brief four-day stay in third spot in late August, following a 6-0 rout of Crewe.
Leaders Lincoln and Tranmere have both won six from nine on home turf, while Luton lead the way in League One with six from eight at Kenilworth Road, and Brentford top the Championship home table with five from eight.
Manchester City have a 100% record in the Premier League, but to date have only hosted five league games (before this afternoon’s match against Southampton) at the Etihad (City of Manchester) Stadium.
So the U’s are out on their own.
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John McGreal’s men are going great guns in front of their own supporters. They have now won four on the spin at home, and accrued a total of 21 points from a possible 28.
That is promotion form!
This was a tight game, with little to choose between the sides, although the U’s did deserve to win by creating the better chances, and looking the more menacing going forward.
After the match, Robins boss Phil Brown remarked – ‘Colchester United have got something going on here, that’s for sure” – and the shrewd 59-year-old is dead-right.
The U’s mean business this season, and they can now enjoy their two-week break from league action, safe in the knowledge that they are in the top three and well-placed for a promotion bid.
The two main incidents of the afternoon were squeezed in at the end of the first period, one bad and one good.
Playing against his old club, leading scorer Luke Norris went down just outside the Robins’ penalty area. He seemed to fall awkwardly, while on the turn, and was left clutching his lower leg in obvious agony on the deck.
After some treatment on the pitch, Norris was stretchered off, to warm applause from both sets of supporters, and was later taken to hospital to assess the damage to his ankle and Achilles area.
However, the U’s did not let this distressing sight affect them. If anything, it spurred them on and Szmodics obliged with what proved to be the winning goal just a minute later, in the fifth minute of added-on time.
Harry Pell threaded a ball into the path of the excellent Frank Nouble, and he swept a low cross into the danger-zone for an unmarked Szmodics to arrow home his sixth goal of the season.
The game opened up in the second half, with Brown making all three of his substitutions inside the first 18 minutes.
Yet the super-confident U’s continued to threaten. Ryan Jackson’s angled drive was beaten away by keeper Lawrence Vigouroux on 67 minutes, while Tom Lapslie was close to bundling home Nouble’s cross late on.
Swindon, who have now won just one of their last eight league games, had two real opportunities to secure a point.
Midfielder Martin Smith burst into the box and exchanged a one-two before cracking in a shot which Rene Gilmartin kept out with an outstretched hand. That was an excellent save.
And a minute later, on 74 minutes, substitute Keshi Anderson pulled his shot wide of target from just 10 yards following a sweeping move. The Wiltshire side never really threatened again, leaving them down in 16th spot and the U’s surging into the automatic promotion zone.
It looks like the U’s will have to cope without the services of goal poacher Norris, for an indefinite period, following his nasty-looking injury.
But will his probable absence derail the U’s promotion bid?
It certainly won’t help, but McGreal, unlike last season, does have other options up top.
He switched Nouble from the left flank to the striker role on Saturday, and the ex-Ipswich Town front-runner looked impressive.
Alternatively, McGreal has back-up target man Mikael Mandron waiting in the wings. The Frenchman is yet to start a league game this term, having scored 10 goals last season.
So, in short, the U’s should be able to adapt and remain in the promotion hunt.