Colchester United League Two fixtures 2017/18:: those fixtures could have been kinder!

Denny Johnstone's second-half header bounces over the bar at Hartlepool on the opening day of last s

Denny Johnstone's second-half header bounces over the bar at Hartlepool on the opening day of last season. The U's have another long trip on the first day of next season, at Accrington Stanley. Picture: PAGEPIX

You have to play everybody some-time, twice, but the new League Two fixture for the 2017-18 season, at first glance, does not look particularly kind to Colchester United.

That’s because the U’s will begin and end the campaign with two of the longest trips in the division, while also having to negotiate an exhausting midweek excursion to South Wales to play Newport County (October 17).

Added to that, the U’s are also on the road twice over the Christmas period, with a Boxing Day jaunt to West Sussex to take on hosts Crawley Town, followed four days later by a trip to Derbyshire to visit newly-relegated Chesterfield.

This will be the U’s second season back in the fourth tier, following relegation in 2016, after spending the previous 18 years operating above that level.

John McGreal’s men finished just one place and one point outside the play-offs last term, in eighth position – seventh-placed Blackpool ended up winning promotion via the play-offs – and they will fancy their chances of going one step further in 2017-18 to at least finish in the top seven.

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However, the fixtures could perhaps have been kinder, in their make-up.

The U’s are accustomed to playing their opening day fixture away from home (they drew 1-1 at Hartlepool only last season), but they will not particularly relish a 512-mile trip to Accrington Stanley on August 5.

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The Essex club’s play-off bid was seriously dented by a 2-1 defeat at Crown Ground last February, which saw them drop to 11th spot.

The U’s did rally during the closing weeks, but not enough to make up for lost ground.

Similarly, if the U’s need points on the final day of the season, to rubber-stamp a top-seven berth or even a top-three automatic promotion slot, then Exeter City away (round trip of 540 miles) represents one of the toughest tests in League Two.

Exeter were beaten in the League Two play-off final by Blackpool, having finished in fifth position, and they completed the league double over the U’s.

The Grecians inflicted one of the heaviest defeats on the U’s, a 3-0 reverse at St James’ Park on January 21. It was only eclipsed by a 4-0 home defeat at the hands of Portsmouth.

Taking a step back, though, I do think the U’s have a great chance of clinching promotion over the course of the next 10 or so months.

They have lost last season’s leading scorer, Chris Porter, to Crewe Alexandra, so will need to replace the veteran target man this summer.

But their squad still looks strong, especially with a number of long-term casualties poised for a return next season, including midfielders Craig Slater and Sammie Szmodics, centre-halves Luke Prosser and Frankie Kent, and striker Denny Johnstone.

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