Recent history suggests Colchester United will NOT make play-offs
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Colchester United have 11 games remaining, to save their season and scramble into the League Two play-offs. U’s writer CARL MARSTON assesses their chances
The odds are stacked against Colchester United making the League Two play-offs this season.
All the statistics, and past history, suggest that the U’s are unlikely to gate-crash the top seven during the last two months of the campaign.
Of course manager John McGreal is not thinking like that, and neither are his players – promotion remains their goal, as it has been all season.
But to scramble into the play-offs, it looks like the U’s are going to have win at least six if not seven of their last 13 matches, and draw a couple as well.
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In short, there is very little margin for error.
McGreal’s men are currently on 50 points, and down in 11th spot, which equates to a mid-table security rather than any late springboard for the play-offs.
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Furthermore, they are not playing well at the moment, following back-to-back 1-0 defeats at the hands of relegation candidates Crewe and Barnet.
Hopes of a return to form, and winning ways, at Morecambe over the weekend were scuppered by a frozen pitch. That fixture was postponed on Friday lunchtime, following a pitch inspection at the Globe Arena.
At least a flurry of postponements elsewhere in League Two meant that the U’s did not lose any more ground to their many promotion rivals.
In fact, only two fixtures escaped the wintry weather on Saturday, with Cambridge United missing the chance to leapfrog Colchester by drawing 1-1 at home to league leaders Luton.
Carlisle beat struggling Grimsby Town 2-0 at Brunton Park to move four points clear of the U’s, in ninth spot.
So what do the U’s have to do, to turn their season around and make the top seven?
I have looked back over the last 10 years, to discover what it has taken to fill that seventh and last play-off berth.
The most glaring fact is that over that last decade, a remarkable five teams finishing in seventh spot, in League Two, went on to clinch promotion via the play-offs – Dagenham Redbridge in 2010, Crewe Alexandra in 2012, Bradford City in 2013, AFC Wimbledon in 2016 and Blackpool last season.
As far as points are concerned, the range extends from just 68 points (Torquay secured seventh spot with that tally in 2010-11) through to the 78 points amassed by seventh-placed Wycombe in 2007-08.
That example of 10 years ago is perhaps an extreme one, especially as the Chairboys finished nine points clear of eighth-placed Chesterfield (69 points).
Looking at the average, it seems likely that the U’s class of 2017-18 will need about 71 or 72 points to snatch a play-off slot (although of course that is no guaranteed target), which means that they somehow have to accumulate another 21 or 22 points over their last 11 matches.
And given that seven of those 11 fixtures are against teams from the top 10, and that McGreal’s men still have to play six of the current top seven, that seems a very tall order.
You can argue that playing most of your lofty rivals means the U’s have an opportunity to take vital points off their opponents – provided that they win – but it is difficult to see the Essex club faring too well against the cream of the division.
In fact, the only top-seven club which the U’s have already played twice, Gareth Ainsworth’s Wycombe, doubled them in fairly comfortable fashion.
Looking at the last five fixtures, the task becomes even more difficult, because the U’s have top-10 opponents in all those last five games, including tough trips to Lincoln City and Exeter City (on the final day).
Of the remaining matches, two are against relegation candidates in Morecambe and Forest Green Rovers, both away from home.
This duo will be desperate for points, for very different reasons, and the fate of the U’s against recent lowly opponents in Crewe and Barnet does not bode particularly well for these future encounters.
That’s all looking on the grim side.
What about the positives?
In truth, the U’s are still in with a fighting chance, just as they were last season when a strong last couple of months almost led to them sneaking into the top seven. In the end, they missed out by just one place and one point.
I have looked at those last 11 fixtures of this season, and endeavoured to make predictions, always a precarious business.
My conclusion, alas, is that I think Colchester will still be plying their trade in the fourth tier next season.
The teams who have finished in the seventh and last play-off place in League Two, with their final points tally, over the last 10 years:
2016-17: Blackpool (70pts, promoted)
2015-16: AFC Wimbledon (75pts, promoted)
2014-15: Plymouth Argyle (71pts)
2013-14: York City (71pts)
2012-13: Bradford City (69pts, promoted)
2011-12: Crewe (72pts, promoted)
2010-11: Torquay United (68pts)
2009-10: Dagenham & Redbridge (72pts, promoted)
2018-09: Shrewsbury Town (69pts)
2007-08: Wycombe Wanderers (78pts)
Here are Carl Marston’s predictions for the U’s last 11 games, in terms of points gained:
0: Mansfield (away)
3: Yeovil (home)
3: Stevenage (away)
1: Morecambe (away)
1: Luton (home)
1: Forest Green Rovers (away)
3: Accrington (home)
1: Notts County (home)
0: Lincoln (away)
3: Swindon (home)
0: Exeter (away)
Predicted points from last games – 16pts
Predicted final points tally - 50 & 16 = 66pts