Talking Points after U’s promising start at Magpies
- Credit: Archant
Colchester United can be warmly satisfied with their opening day showing at Notts County, on a sun-kissed Saturday afternoon at Meadow Lane, the home of the oldest surviving Football League club in the world.
True, the U’s did not win, something they have not achieved on the opening day of a season for five years, since a 1-0 victory at Gillingham in 2013.
But John McGreal’s men were good value for their point, which McGreal himself remarked was “the next best thing” to a win.
Twelve months ago, the U’s kicked off their 2017-18 campaign with a disappointing 3-1 defeat at Accrington Stanley. That was a deflating afternoon, and although Stanley did go on to win the League Two title, the U’s ended up floundering in mid-table with a 13th spot finish.
The mood was very different in Nottingham.
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The U’s created just as many chances as their hosts, who are widely regarded – especially by the bookmakers – as favourites for promotion and the title.
Frank Nouble had a header which flashed just wide (23 minutes), fellow new boy Aaron Collins lost his footing at the vital time when on the point of shooting (70), and Tom Eastman rattled the bar (75) with a left-footed curler.
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There were certainly more pluses than minuses, looking at the season as a whole.
All three of the U’s debutants made a good impression.
Harry Pell was perhaps the pick of them, the ex-Cheltenham Town 26-year-old looking a dominant force in the centre of the park, alongside the diminutive Tom Lapslie in a real little-and-large pairing.
In the build-up to the match, Pell had explained that one of his roles would be to help “see out games,” and he certainly stood up strong during the closing minutes on Saturday, to safeguard a point.
Frank Nouble was a big presence up top, especially in the first half. He had a couple of surging runs, was unlucky with a header that rolled wide of the far post from Ryan Jackson’s cross, and generally gave County’s defence an unsettling time.
He also caused panic for keeper Fitzsimons, who appeared the handle the ball outside his penalty area in the 49th minute, under pressure from the ex-Ipswich Town man. But referee Seb Stockbridge was not convinced.
McGreal certainly has extra options up top this season, due to Nouble’s summer arrival, with Mikael Mandron surprisingly only starting on the bench following a productive season.
Another attacker, Aaron Collins, was also effective on his U’s debut.
The Wolves loanee was full of running, delivered some good balls into the box, and was frustrated not to score when losing his balance with just Fitzsimons to beat from Sammie Szmodics’ delivery, after Nouble had half-charged down the keeper’s clearance.
Both Szmodics and Collins operated behind front-man Nouble, providing energy and enterprise to the U’s attacks.
The signs were indeed promising.
The central moment arrived on 75 minutes when centre-half, Tom Eastman, beat Magpies keeper Ross Fitzsimons all ends up with a wonderful curling shot, only for the ball to cannon back off the bar.
Ironically, Notts County’s best moment was a mere 60 seconds later, when they themselves came close to breaking the deadlock.
Substitute Kristian Dennis, on his debut following his switch from relegated Chesterfield, scooped a close-range effort over the bar from a matter of a few feet out, following Enzio Boldewijn’s low cross.
LIFE AFTER WALKER
Sam Walker’s boots are huge ones to fill, and there is no doubt that the U’s will miss his presence between the sticks this season – Walker was an unused substitute for his new club Reading’s 2-1 loss to Derby last Friday night.
But Dillon Barnes deserves his chance to become the new long-term No. 1, and he was rewarded with a clean-sheet on Saturday.
The 22-year-old was well protected by a three-man defence, and at times stayed on his line rather than venture out to deal with crosses – the likes of Luke Prosser ruled the airwaves – but he also made two smart saves.
Barnes settled any nerves by diverting Boldewijn’s low shot around his post on four minutes, and later caught the eye by arching back to tip Nathan Thomas’ rising shot over the bar.