Colchester United’s Academy products are set to make a big impact during run-in
Colchester United finished their last match, away at Cambridge United last Saturday, with five Academy products on the pitch.
Certainly the U’s are in the midst of a big injury crisis, but it still speaks volumes that virtually half the XI that helped to secure a battling point in a 1-1 draw at the Abbey Stadium had graduated from the U’s youth team set-up.
In addition to centre-half Cameron James, right wing-back Drey Wright and midfielder Tom Lapslie, who played the full 90 minutes against Cambridge, substitutes Sammie Szmodics and Macauley Bonne were introduced to make big impacts last weekend.
All five have been nurtured through the Academy, based at the Essex club’s training headquarters at Florence Park, Tiptree.
A sixth, Kane Vincent-Young, who joined the U’s Academy from Tottenham in 2014, was an unused substitute against Cambridge, but has been involved on-and-off during the season.
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And of course let’s not forget Frankie Kent, one of the flag-bearers for the U’s Academy, who is sidelined for the season with ruptured ankle ligaments.
If the U’s are to reach the League Two end-of-season play-offs, then their Academy products, just as much as their transfer signings, will have been a key to their success.
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Here is a run-down of those Academy success stories:
Attacking midfielder Szmodics made a welcome return to the U’s first-team squad at Cambridge, and crowned it with an 84th minute equaliser.
The 21-year-old had effectively been out of action for four months, but he lost no time in making an immediate impact by diverting home Brennan Dickenson’s cross.
Szmodics, dogged by ankle injuries over the last year, which required two operations, could well have a big say on whether or not the U’s make the play-offs, especially as fellow attacking midfielder Craig Slater is out for the season with a double hernia.
Having made his first-team debut back in September, 2013, Colchester-born Szmodics, who has been with the Essex Club since the age of seven, has made 59 league appearances to date.
Versatile defender James has burst onto the first-team scene quicker than even he would have imagined, due to all the long-term injuries to fellow defenders – Kent, Luke Prosser, Lloyd Doyley, Jermaine Grandison and Tom Eastman have all been nursing long-term injuries.
James made his senior debut on the final day of last season, as a substitute in a 2-1 home defeat to Rochdale, and was only expecting to be on the fringe of the first team this term.
But the Chelmsford-born 19-year-old has started the last four matches, in the right centre-half position of a three-man back-line, and has looked the part.
James can also operate as a right-back, or a central midfielder.
Back from a month’s loan spell at National League strugglers Woking, front-runner Bonne almost scored within a minute of his return, as an 80th minute substitute at Cambridge.
Goal-poacher Bonne swept home Dickenson’s cross, and started to celebrate with his team-mates in front of the U’s fans, before becoming aware of an assistant referee’s raised flag for offside.
Like his former Academy team-mate Szmodics, livewire Bonne will be hoping to play a big role in the U’s last 11 games of the regular season. The 21-year-old is now quite experienced, having chalked up 69 league games for the U’s, in addition to useful loan stints with Lincoln and Woking in the top tier of non-league.
With fellow strikers Kurtis Guthrie and Denny Johnstone ruled out for the season, Bonne is likely to be a regular member of the squad between now and May.
Central midfielder Lapslie is enjoying the most productive campaign of his career.
The 21-year-old has made 48 league appearances, since making his senior debut just over two years ago, having joined the Academy as a 16-year-old.
Tenacious in the tackle, and providing good cover for the defence, Lapslie has played 27 of the 35 league games this season.
Flying winger Wright, another with injury problems in the past, is now proving his versatility in the wing-back role. The 21-year-old has rattled up 80 league games, since his debut in 2012. He is never afraid to run at opponents.