U's Talking Points: time is running out for Colchester United
PUBLISHED: 11:50 24 March 2019
© Copyright Stephen Waller
Colchester United are currently enduring their poorest run of the season, at just the wrong time.
The U’s are in danger of slipping out of the League Two play-off picture altogether, if their current barren spell of three straight defeats (four defeats in five, and just one win in seven) continues for much longer.
After being in the thick of the play-off race all campaign, John McGreal’s men have suddenly hit a brick wall.
They can’t score goals at one end – no goals in four of their last five outings – while they’ve been shipping them in at the other end.
That’s a recipe for disaster, or at least the ingredients for finishing the season in mid-table, rather than the top seven.
Of course there is still much to play for, with seven fixtures remaining and 21 points up for grabs.
But from a position of strength – they were lying in fourth slot just six weeks ago – they now find themselves four points and two places off the play-off pace.
Certainly, they cannot afford another defeat in their next game, away at lowly Cambridge United in the East Anglian derby this weekend.
The tide must turn, and quickly.
Lack of goals
What the U’s would do for a striker of James Norwood’s calibre!
A red-hot Norwood, the League Two’s top goalscorer, was too hot to handle for the U’s on Saturday, breaking the deadlock with a poacher’s finish in the 23rd minute.
The U’s actually created more scoring chances, especially during the first period, but they lacked the clinical touch of Norwood, who now has 28 goals to his name (26 in the league). Norwood is believed to be a transfer target of Ipswich Town, although other clubs will surely be in the running.
David Perkins, the former Colchester midfielder, supplied the inch-perfect pass for Norwood to race clear of the home back-line and lift his shot over keeper Dillon Barnes, who had scampered off his line and perhaps gone to ground too early.
As has been the case in recent matches, that first goal was all-important.
The U’s had threatened earlier on, with Courtney Senior (from a free-kick) and Sammie Szmodics both ballooning shots over the bar.
After Norwood’s opener, Frankie Kent headed agonisingly over, from Abo Eisa’s free-kick, while a thunderbolt from Ryan Jackson also flew just over the top.
In truth, the U’s did not create as much in the second half, having been stunned by Tranmere adding a killer second within 60 seconds of the restart.
Defender Jack Caprice got beyond the U’s back-line and squared for Connor Jennings, whose shot was clawed off the goal-line by a despairing dive from Barnes. However, Perkins was on hand to hammer the rebound into the roof of the net from an acute angle. It was a deadly finish by the 36-year-old veteran schemer.
Eisa was unlucky to see his 70th minute free-kick diverted onto the inside of a post, by the scrambling efforts of keeper Scott Davies. The ball stayed out, and with it went the U’s hopes of staging a grandstand finish.
Absentees and loss of form
Injuries are killing the U’s, at just the wrong time, while others are finding that their form is deserting them.
There is no doubt that the U’s have missed the presence of Harry Pell (sore hamstring) in the middle of the park, especially as Brandon Comley (knee) and Tom Lapslie (returned on Saturday after a hamstring injury) have been sidelined at the same time.
Ben Stevenson has struggled on, hampered by a sore groin himself, but the U’s have found themselves short in the middle of the park.
As an attacking force, as well, confidence is clearly in very short-supply.
Luke Norris does not look the same player who began his Colchester career with a bang, scoring seven goals in his first nine appearances. Szmodics has blown hot-and-cold and Senior has failed to live-up to the heights of his man-of-the-man match display in the 3-0 win over Newport from earlier in the month.
Mikael Mandron, for all his hard graft, is not a natural goalscorer, and Frank Nouble’s three-match suspension (he will serve his last game at Cambridge on Saturday), incurred for dissent late on against Forest Green Rovers, could not have come at a worse time.
The U’s have to dig deep, and rediscover their scoring touch, otherwise the hard work of earlier in the season will go to waste.