Colchester United talking point: a likely starting XI for Accrington

Tom Eastman battles for the ball with Gillingham striker Tom Eaves during last Friday night's pre-se

Tom Eastman battles for the ball with Gillingham striker Tom Eaves during last Friday night's pre-season friendly. Eastman should be one of the first names on the team-sheet for this weekend. Picture: STEVE WALLER - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

The countdown is on for the start of the new season. Colchester United writer CARL MARSTON selects a starting XI which might well feature at Accrington

Denny Johnstone on the ball during the U's 3-0 win at Braintree in a pre-season friendly. Johnstone

Denny Johnstone on the ball during the U's 3-0 win at Braintree in a pre-season friendly. Johnstone should spearhead the U's attack at Acrrington. Picture: STEVE WALLER - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

It is just five days until the new season begins, with Colchester United kicking off their League Two campaign with a 510-mile round trip to Accrington Stanley this weekend.

Boss John McGreal seems to have settled on the 3-4-1-2 formation which suited his side so well during the second half of last season, with three centre-halves, two over-lapping wing-backs and a two-pronged attack.

McGreal has selection dilemmas, of a pleasant kind, in several areas. He has insisted that this week’s final training sessions are key in the build-up to Saturday’s opener, but he has already probably selected the XI set to start at the Crown Ground,

McGreal said: “This next week is vitally important for all the boys. But the big thing for me this pre-season is all the injured players coming back.

Sammie Szmodics, who scored a late consolation goal in a U's 3-1 defeat at Accrington this afternoon

Sammie Szmodics, who scored a late consolation goal in a U's 3-1 defeat at Accrington this afternoon. - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller


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“We’re missing Kurtis (Guthrie) and Luke (Prosser) for a little bit longer, but the other lads are all up to speed.

“We will all go again as a big group this week, preparing for Saturday. We have strength in depth, in certain areas, so I have decisions to make,” added McGreal.

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Below I select my likely starting XI for the trip to Accrington, assessing the options open to the U’s management staff.

GOALKEEPER

Likely starter: Sam Walker.

The 25-year-old was ever-present in League Two last season, after the previous year’s knee injury woes. If he can steer clear of injuries, then another 46 league appearances could be on the cards.

Options: New goalkeeping player-coach Rene Gilmartin, recruited from Watford, and 21-year-old Dillon Barnes will contest the spot as back-up keeper on the bench.

CENTRE-HALVES

Likely starters: Tom Eastman, Alex Wynter, Cole Kpewaka.

Competition is stiff in this area, despite the preferred three-man central defence. This trio started against Gillingham on Friday night, in the U’s last pre-season fixture.

Eastman is always one of the first names on the team-sheet, while summer signing Kpewaka has warmed to the role of left-sided centre-half, having spent most of his career at left-back. Wynter is always a composed man to have in the sweeper’s role.

Options: Frankie Kent is a strong contender in the sweeper position, having impressed in that role at times last season. But he missed out against Gillingham, due to a knee problem, so this weekend might come too soon for him. Cameron James should be on the bench, at worst.

WING-BACKS

Likely starters: Ryan Jackson, Lewis Kinsella.

Jackson has had to work hard on his fitness, since his move from Gillingham this summer, but he has got stronger with every pre-season outing and should get the nod at Accrington. His confidence will also have been bolstered by a first goal in a Colchester shirt, against his former club, in last Friday’s 2-1 defeat to the Gills.

- Ryan Jackson video

Former Aston Villa trainee Kinsella should be selected as the left wing-back. An ankle injury restricted his appearances to just 15 last season.

Options: Kane Vincent-Young, Louis Dunne, Charlie Edge, Cole Kpewaka.

CENTRAL MIDFIELDERS

Likely starters: Sean Murray, Craig Slater, Sammie Szmodics

Slater was badly missed, when his season was cut short by a double-hernia last March. The Scotsman is a class act at this level. Murray has impressed since his switch from Swindon last January, so he could sit alongside Slater in a defensively-minded role, with the more-attack minded Szmodics behind the front two.

Options: These are plentiful. Tom Lapslie, Doug Loft and Tommy O’Sullivan are all very capably defensive midfielders, while Drey Wright is a possibility behind the strike-force. Louis Dunne, son of former boss Joe, is also a big prospect for the future.

STRIKERS

Likely starters: Denny Johnstone, Mikael Mandron

No. 9 Johnstone scored three goals in pre-season. The Scotsman seems sure to start this Saturday, although it is less clear who will operate alongside him. Frenchman Mandron, signed from Wigan, might be rewarded with his full debut at Accrington.

Options: Drey Wright. It would not surprise me if McGreal opts for a little bit more pace up front, in which case he could opt for Wright over Mandron. Guthrie is not yet fit enough to be in contention, but Academy product Tariq Issa, 19, is pushing for a place on the bench.

CARL’S PREDICTED XI: Walker, Eastman, Wynter, Kpewaka, Jackson, Murray, Slater, Kinsella, Szmodics, Johnstone, Mandron.

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