Colchester United review of the season: so near and yet so far
PUBLISHED: 12:55 10 May 2019
© Copyright Stephen Waller
Colchester United correspondent CARL MARSTON casts his eye over the 2018-19 season, which saw the U's finish just one point outside the play-offs
So near, and yet so far.
That perfectly sums up Colchester United's 2018-19 season, which promised so much, delivered a good deal, but ultimately achieved very little.
The U's will be playing in the fourth tier, for the fourth year in a row, next season, following relegation in 2015-16. That's the disappointing part.
On the bright side, the Essex club should be good shape to once again compete at the top end of the table, during 2019-20.
No. 1: Two defeats around Christmas, a 2-1 home loss to an ordinary Stevenage side on Boxing Day, and then a 2-0 loss at Crawley on New Year's Day, were poor results and also poor performances
No. 2: The away trip to Bury, with three weeks to go, was always going to be key. The Shakers were well-placed, but their players had not been paid for the previous month and they had lost their last three games. However, the U's could not cash in and hardly got out of second gear in a 2-0 loss, keeping them stuck in ninth slot.
No. 3: More Cup disappointment. The U's were crying out for a Cup run, but their FA Cup adventure ended at the first hurdle, at Accrington Stanley, as did their League Cup campaign, away at Cheltenham.
No. 1: Seeing the U's young players make such good progress, with Academy products such as Frankie Kent, Tom Lapslie and Sammie Szmodics all enjoying fine seasons, and the likes of Noah Chilvers, Ollie Kensdale and Todd Miller (the next generation) all getting a taste of first-team action.
No. 2: The recruitment was a success. Harry Pell, Frank Nouble and Luke Norris all proved to be wise acquisitions, as did the short-term capture of Sam Saunders during the closing weeks.
No. 3: The fans. There was a good rapport between players and supporters, home and away. That important relationship has got stronger during John McGreal's tenure.
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REASONS FOR MISSING OUT
No. 1: A dreadful two-month run, from mid-February to mid-April, which yielded just two wins in 10 games, and just eight points from a possible 30.
No. 2: Sam Walker's departure for Reading the previous summer. The U's certainly missed their former No.1, who had rattled up exactly 200 appearances before his exit. Dillon Barnes, Rene Gilmartin and Ethan Ross shared the goalkeeping responsibilities, but you can't help thinking that Walker's presence would have secured the extra few points necessary for a top-seven or even top-three finish. Ironically, Walker only played seven league games for Reading all season.
No. 3: The injury to Luke Norris, and his subsequent loss of form. The ex-Swindon striker began life with the U's in superb fashion, netting seven goals in his first nine appearances, but he managed just one more goal all season and failed to hit the target from mid-October onwards. In fact, he went 23 appearances without scoring.
REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL
No. 1: The U's played entertaining football throughout the season, and I certainly think that fans got their money's worth. I see no reason for that to change next season.
No. 2: Having just missed out on the play-offs, by one place, in two of the last three years, the U's are banging on the door. In other words, they are not far off what is required to mount a successful promotion push.
No. 3: John McGreal and Steve Ball have proved themselves to be a good management team. They now have the benefit of three years experience behind them, and have the backing of chairman and owner Robbie Cowling.
CARL MARSTON'S FOOTNOTE
Carl's best home game: The last home fixture, a 2-0 win over Paul Tisdale's high-flying MK Dons (April 27), was the most enjoyable. The stadium rocked. Equally satisfying was the 1-0 win over leaders Lincoln (October 27).
Carl's best away game: Predictably, it had to be the last day of the season, and that wonderful 3-0 win at champions Lincoln (May 4). It was as good-a-first-half of football that I have witnessed from a U's team in many-a-year. The 4-0 win at Northampton (February 2) was just as emphatic, but more low-key.
Carl's player-of-the-season: For me, Sammie Szmodics gets the nod. He was the spark in the team, the player that the opposition most feared, and the player most likely to unlock a defence.
Carl's summer hopes: That the club manages to hold onto its best young stars, like Szmodics, Frankie Kent and Courtney Senior.