Colchester United 2016/17 review: The season in which the U’s rediscovered their mojo

Tom Eastman slots home Colchester United's first goal of the season, after four minutes of an openin

Tom Eastman slots home Colchester United's first goal of the season, after four minutes of an opening day 1-1 draw at Hartlepool. Picture: PAGEPIX

After several years of flirting with relegation, which duly ended in the dreaded drop into the fourth tier last year, this last season has been a breath of fresh air at Colchester United.

Leyton Orient fans invade the pitch to protest against their board during the U's last away fixture

Leyton Orient fans invade the pitch to protest against their board during the U's last away fixture of the season. The match was halted for two hours before the final few minutes were played out in an empty stadium. The U's won 3-1. The O's will be in the National League next season.Picture: RICHARD BLAXALL - Credit: Richard Blaxall / Pagepix

True, they were looking nervously over their shoulder during the first half of November, when they slid into the relegation zone on the back of no wins in 10 league games, and no victories in 13 in all competitions.

But John McGreal, in his first season at the helm, gradually guided his new charges out of danger and into the play-off mix, despite a glut of terrible injuries.

Having been relegated from League One last season, U’s fans might have been hoping for an immediate return to the third tier, a feat achieved by Doncaster Rovers, and possibly Blackpool as well if the Seasiders are successful in the play-offs.

But I don’t think there can be too many complaints over an eighth-placed finish, just one point adrift of seventh-placed Blackpool, after a season of consolidation blighted by injuries to so many of their key players.

Morecambe's Michael Rose, a former Colchester player, celebrates his late penalty against the U's in

Morecambe's Michael Rose, a former Colchester player, celebrates his late penalty against the U's in a 1-1 draw at the Globe Arena, which effectively cost the U's a play-off place. It was the U's first ever visit to the Globe Arena. Picture: PAGEPIX

The U’s season was still alive, going into the final weekend of the campaign, and they were actually sitting in the top-seven until Carlisle sneaked two goals at Exeter to grab a comeback 3-2 win.

In short, after years without it, I think the U’s have rediscovered their mojo again.

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THE U’S STATS

U's boss, John McGreal, right, shows his frustration during the midweek 1-0 defeat at Grimsby last

U's boss, John McGreal, right, shows his frustration during the midweek 1-0 defeat at Grimsby last February. Off the pitch, the Blundell Park press lounge had the best spread of food in League Two, in Carl Marston's humble opinion. Picture: RICHARD BLAXALL - Credit: Richard Blaxall / Pagepix

Goals: Chris Porter 16 (9th highest in L2), Brennan Dickenson 12 & Kurtis Guthrie 12 (joint 21st)

Assists: Chris Porter 8 (joint 9th highest), Brennan Dickenson 7 (joint 12th)

Fairplay: U’s had the second best record with 68pts (65 bookings and 1 sending-off)

Highest home attendance: 6,504 (v Portsmouth, March 11)

Leyton Orient fans invade the pitch to protest against their board during the U's last away fixture

Leyton Orient fans invade the pitch to protest against their board during the U's last away fixture of the season. The match was halted for two hours before the final few minutes were played out in an empty stadium. The U's won 3-1. The O's will be in the National League next season.Picture: RICHARD BLAXALL - Credit: Richard Blaxall / Pagepix

Lowest home attendance: 548 (v Charlton U21s, EFL Trophy, November 8); 2,526 (league, v Mansfield, March 14)

Highest away attendance: 15,967 (at Portsmouth, August 20)

Lowest away attendance: 881 (at Crawley, EFL Trophy, August 30); 1,310 (league, at Accrington Stanley, February 18)

Kurtis Guthrie was one of many Colchester United players to suffer a serious injury, during a match

Kurtis Guthrie was one of many Colchester United players to suffer a serious injury, during a match rather than in training. Here the U's striker is taken from the pitch on a stretcher after sustaining an ankle injury late on during the U's 2-1 home win over Hartlepool. Picture: STEVE WALLER - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

LEAGUE TWO STATS

Goals: John Akinde (Barnet) & John Marquis (Doncaster), both 26

Assists: Sean McConville (Accrington Stanley) 17

Fairplay, worst record: Newport County 125pts (110 yellow cards, 5 reds)

Fairplay, best record: Crewe 53pts (47 yellows, 2 reds)

Highest attendance: 18,625 (Portsmouth v Plymouth)

Lowest attendance: 1,045 (Accrington v Wycombe)

CARL’S PERSONAL TOUCH

Favourite away trip: to Cheltenham (November 22). After 73 days without a win, the chore of a long midweek jaunt to Gloucestershire was made merry by a 3-0 win at Whaddon Road. From then on, all talk was of possible promotion rather than a second successive relegation

Least favourite away trip: to Hartlepool (August 6). The U’s may have drawn on this opening day clash, but I experienced the worst traffic problems of the whole campaign, due to holds-up, road-works and holiday traffic. However, at least I was safely settled into my seat to report on the U’s first goal, netted by Tom Eastman on four minutes.

Best press food: having experienced the delights of hot meals and wonderful cakes during the U’s two years in the Championship (2006-08), the eventual return to League Two via League One has meant a decline in press lounge delights. However, the buffet spread at Grimsby Town was a highlight, closely followed by the one at Crawley.

Most ‘frustrating’ press food: There’s only thing worse than no food, and that’s to miss out on some! Having survived the mammoth journey to Plymouth, and stretched my legs with a stroll into town, I returned to the Home Park press lounge just as the last pie had been claimed!

SOME FIRSTS

Morecambe: my (and U’s) first ever visit to the Globe Arena (my 87th of 92 League clubs)

Barnet: my (and U’s) first ever visit to The Hive (opened in 2013).

Leyton Orient: first time I have ever reported on a match lasting four hours, with a two-hour intermission for a pitch invasion, finishing with the last few minutes being played in an empty stadium!

POSSIBLE LASTS

Hartlepool: I visited Hartlepool for my 11th and possibly last time. After 96 years as a Football League club, Pools will be in the National League next season.

Leyton Orient: Saddled with debts, it might be a very long time before the relegated O’s play host to the U’s again.

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