Colchester United Talking Points: poor home results, silly mistakes, keeper situation
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Colchester United’s indifferent home form is in danger of costing them a League Two play-off berth.
The U’s suffered their third home defeat on the bounce, to extend their lean spell at the Job Serve Community Stadium to just nine points gained from a possible 30 in their last 10 homes outings, when rejuvenated Oldham Athletic punished them early doors on Saturday in a 2-0 away win.
It was as if John McGreal’s men were still stuck in the traps, while rampant Oldham raced into a two-goal lead inside the first 13 minutes through goals from defender Alex Iacovitti and striker Callum Lang.
The U’s, playing catch-up for the rest of the afternoon, did improve in the second half. They peppered the target with shots, headers, crosses and corners, but it was all in vain.
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The U’s were in such good form in front of their own fans, during the first half of the season, but that’s all changed now.
In fact, a good home record was the reason why John McGreal’s men were in the play-off mix, and sometimes even sitting in the third automatic promotion slot, up until Christmas.
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Building on two impressive successes in their first two home games, against Port Vale (2-0) and Crewe (6-0), the U’s went on to win seven of their first nine home games, and by Christmas that record had stood at eight wins from 11 home league fixtures.
So what has happened, since Christmas, to account for this marked decline in home results?
Momentum is a big factor in football, and certainly the U’s are no longer used to winning in front of their home fans.
A few bad results can change the whole complexion of a season, and have an impact on the players’ approach to games, especially when playing on home turf.
Boss McGreal admitted that his players “looked nervous” during the early stages against Oldham, suggesting that the team is not as comfortable playing at home, as away, when perhaps the pressure is slightly off them.
Another reason is the U’s often poor starts to a game, on home soil, which leaves them with too much to do.
That was the case on Saturday, and it was also the case in the recent defeats to Forest Green Rovers (0-3), when they were two-down inside 33 minutes, and against Tranmere (0-2), when they conceded the killer second inside a few seconds of the second period.
The U’s have two home games remaining, against Grimsby Town (Good Friday) and against MK Dons (April 27), and they will need to take points from these fixtures to have a chance of making the top seven.
It is no longer enough to just rely on a few good away wins.
The second goal conceded by the U’s on Saturday was almost laughable. It certainly did serious damage to their chances of taking anything out of the game.
Frankie Kent over-hit his back pass, from near the touch-line, and the ball was heading out of play (for a corner) when keeper Dillon Barnes decided to try and keep the ball in play by taking a swipe at it.
Instead of directing his kick to the sidelines, Barnes merely managed to pick out Callum Lang, Oldham’s leading scorer, who was minding his own business on the edge of the box.
Of course Lang needed no second invitation, keeping his composure before planting a low shot into the bottom corner of the net, beyond the reach of a despairing Barnes.
It was Lang’s 14th goal of the season, and it was a real gift.
Everyone makes mistakes – McGreal mentioned just that in his post-match interview – but you can’t make such glaring errors and expect to remain in the thick of a promotion race.
There is no doubt that the U’s have badly missed the presence of Sam Walker in goal this season, as indeed any fourth tier club would.
Ironically, while Walker has been warming the bench at his new club Reading for most of this season – he has not played since early November, and has only played seven league games all term – his successors have struggled at times.
Dillon Barnes and Rene Gilmartin, who is also the goalkeeping coach, have tried to plug the gap – between them, they have kept 15 clean-sheets from 41 league games –- but neither has been that convincing.
U’s fans could be excused for thinking that the play-offs would have been a shoo-in, if Walker had still been at the club.