The big interview: ‘I don’t want this season to peter out’ – John McGreal

Colchester United boss John McGreal will try to plot Stevenage's downfall. Picture: STEE WALLER

Colchester United boss John McGreal will try to plot Stevenage's downfall. Picture: STEE WALLER - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Colchester United boss, John McGreal, is determined to avoid this season just “petering out,” as are all his players.

U's leading scorer Sammie Szmodics, who is set to return to the U's squad after a back injury. Pictu

U's leading scorer Sammie Szmodics, who is set to return to the U's squad after a back injury. Picture: PAGEPIX - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

The U’s have 11 games left to save their season, equating to approximately a quarter of the campaign, so there is time and scope to make a late dash for the League Two play-offs.

But they cannot afford a third loss on the bounce, away at Mansfield Town tomorrow, especially as the Stags are one of their play-off rivals in fifth spot.

The U’s have dropped to 12th in the table, a distant seven points off the top seven, following back-to-back 1-0 defeats to lowly Crewe and basement side Barnet.

Another slip-up, at Field Mill, would prove costly, both in terms of league position and in terms of squad morale.

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“I don’t want this season to just peter out,” insisted McGreal, during yesterday’s press conference at the Essex club’s training headquarters of Florence Park, Tiptree.

McGreal continued: “We want to try and keep this season going. There are still two months left of this season, and we want to keep it alive.

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“There are 11 games left, and let’s be positive. We have to play virtually all the big teams, so we have a chance to take points off them. It’s still very tight, which I think is how it’s going to remain for the whole season, with teams taking points each other.”

The U’s have had the benefit of the equivalent of a mini-winter break, due to last weekend’s away game at Morecambe being postponed because of a frozen pitch.

- ‘There will be changes’ – McGreal

That trip to the Globe Arena has bee rearranged for next Tuesday week (March 20), which will be a long midweek haul for McGreal’s men, but before then they have tomorrow’s test at fifth-placed Mansfield, and then the following Saturday’s home fixture against Yeovil Town.

A failure to return to winning ways at either of these games would almost certainly put the play-offs out of their reach, even before their visit to the Lancashire coast in 10 days time.

“Obviously we wanted to play last weekend, to get that Barnet game (1-0 home loss) out of our system,” explained McGreal.

“But it’s given us a chance to assess the season, and for us to go and see a couple of other matches in our division.

“We went to Cambridge (1-1 draw against Luton) last Saturday, and to Mansfield (1-1 draw against Lincoln on Tuesday evening).

“And we had our own in-house game as well, an 11 versus 11 match on Tuesday, which was a very useful exercise.

“Now we’re all looking forward to this weekend’s match, and what should be a very good game.

“Mansfield have a new manager (Gary Flitcroft), who will have his own ideas that he will want to implement over time.

- Comment: recent history suggests U’s will NOT make the play-offs

“But it’s the same personnel (as former boss Steve Evans’ regime). It was good for us to see how they play (on Tuesday), and nothing much had changed. I doubt whether too much will have changed over the last 48 hours, before this Saturday, but we’ll see.

“We just want to save our season, over these last 11 games.

“Several teams behind us are talking about getting into the play-odds, like Cambridge and Newport, so why shouldn’t we still have plans to make the top seven?

“We’ve got to stay positive, because potentially it’s a great end to the season for us, with some big games coming up against some top opposition, especially at the Weston Homes Community Stadium.”

The top three teams, Luton, Accrington Stanley and Notts County, all have to visit the Community Stadium over the next few weeks, while the U’s also face play-off rivals Lincoln City and Exeter City on the road in their last two away games of the campaign.

But first things first – McGreal must try and pick a side capable of inflicting a rare defeat on Mansfield this weekend.

“I have plenty of players to choose from. We have bodies coming back (from injuries) and there will be changes for this weekend,” insisted McGreal.

“I’d be telling lies if I said we were going to keep the same personnel and the same team from the Barnet game.

“We want to develop a siege mentality, and to start building up some momentum,” added McGreal.

Two of the U’s big-name players, leading scorer Sammie Szmodics and front-man Kurtis Guthrie, are both fit again after their respective back and ankle injuries.

Both should feature at Mansfield, as should club captain Luke Prosser after he too was rested for the shock home defeat to Barnet.

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