Colchester United: five reasons to be cheerful, and five reasons to be concerned
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Colchester United may have lost their first two matches of the season, at Accrington Stanley in League Two and at home to Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup, but it is far from all doom-and-gloom at the Essex club.
FIVE REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL
1 Bouncing back
Any good team needs to bounce back from adversity, and the U’s did this on more than one occasion against Aston Villa on Wednesday evening.
Trailing to Scott Hogan’s early goal, they almost responded immediately when Mikael Mandron had his penalty saved by Jed Steer.
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Likewise, despite going 2-0 down, in very unfortunate circumstances through Frankie Kent’s own goal, McGreal’s men again rallied with Sammie Szmodics close to halving the deficit quickly.
Kent did then pull a goal before half-time, so becoming the first Colchester player since David Gregory (3-3 draw at Stoke in January, 1999), to score at both at both ends of the pitch (namely a goal and an own goal).
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The U’s were unlucky not to fashion an equaliser in the second period, suggesting they will be blessed by durability this season.
2 Super Sammie
It has been a frustrating start to Szmodics’ career, due to the long-term injuries of the last two season, but it will be a major boost if the 21-year-old attacking midfielder can stay largely fit this term.
Szmodics has been my man-of-the-match for the U’s first two matches of this season, having only made 19 league appearances throughout 2016-17 due to a broken ankle and then a broken leg, and only five the previous season.
Szmodics only played for 45 minutes at Accrington, having been introduced as a substitute for the start of the second period, but he kick-started the U’s into action, worried opposed defenders and achieved the accolade of scoring the U’s first goal of the campaign.
He was again the brightest attacker on display against Aston Villa, and on another night could have chalked up two or three goals.
3 Summer recruits
Mikael Mandron, despite his penalty miss against Villa, can be satisfied with his first two displays in a U’s shirt, since his switch from Wigan.
The Frenchman certainly has the capacity to be a handful for defenders, and he should improve from match-to-match, especially if he can break his scoring duck early.
Ryan Jackson already looks a settled performer in the right wing-back role, while Cole Kpekawa has added options to the left side of the U’s defence.
So, for that matter, has Kyel Reid, recruited on loan from Coventry until January. He provided an assist for Kent’s goal against Villa.
4 Return of the injured players
There is so much more to come from the likes of Craig Slater and Denny Johnstone, who missed a large chunk of the end of last season due to injury.
Both players have looked rusty early on, and should soon get into their stride.
5 Midfield options
For me, the U’s midfield is the real strength of the team.
I have already mentioned Szmodics, in an attacking role, and the hope that Slater will soon get back to his best, but the duo of Tom Lapslie and Sean Murray were both excellent in defensive midfield roles against Villa.
Lapslie provides some much-needed steel and bite to the engine room, while Murray has a knack of picking out an inch-perfect pass.
FIVE REASONS TO BE WORRIED
1 Poor results
A poor start always leaves you having to play catch-up. The U’s have now bowed out of the League Cup at the first hurdle for seven years in a row, but the 3-1 reverse at Accrington was the most disappointing.
They were in the top six for virtually the whole of the first seven weeks of last term. They might struggle to emulate that good start.
2 Defensive wobbles
The three-man defence was unconvincing at Accrington, often being caught out by through balls and also failing to clear their lines properly. Wednesday’s opener was equally soft, with keeper Sam Walker making a rare blunder.
3 Too many injuries
This has been a big problem over the last year. Kurtis Guthrie, Luke Prosser, Doug Loft and Tom Eastman, in addition to Brennan Dickenson, are the main casualties at present.
4 Lack of a goal-threat
The loss of Chris Porter to League Two rivals Crewe looks like being a difficult one to resolve.
Porter bagged 16 goals last term, and the early signs are that strikers Johnstone, Mandron and Drey Wright will struggle to get near that mark – I hope to be proved wrong!
Hopefully, the return of Guthrie will boost the goals tally from the strike-force department.
5 A need for width
There is a big onus on the wing-backs to get forward, because otherwise the U’s have tended to play too narrowly at times, with their front-two and one central midfielder just behind that pair.
Dickenson was obviously superb at providing that attacking impetus down the left, and Richard Brindley (now Barnet) was effective down the right during the second half of last season.
The likes of Reid and Jackson will need to offer the same attacking threat.