U's comment: where have all the goals gone?
PUBLISHED: 11:57 30 December 2018
© Copyright Stephen Waller
Where have all the goals gone?
Colchester United built up a reputation for being a free-scoring team, during the first few months of the season, and they remain strong promotion candidates going into 2019, but the goals have dried up.
Saturday’s goalless stalemate against lowly Morecambe earned them a point to keep them in fourth spot, in League Two, level on points with third-placed Mansfield and only two only adrift of second-placed MK Dons.
But it also highlighted their struggle for goals – they have now scored just one or no goals in their last 14 games, 12 of them in the league.
In fact, it is now two-and-a-half months since John McGreal’s men last scored two goals or more in a match, in a 3-1 home win over their next opponents, Crawley Town – on October 13 – a distant 79 days ago.
There would be a pleasant symmetry, if the U’s were to return to their previous goal-scoring ways at Crawley’s Broadfield Stadium tomorrow, although naturally the U’s would be perfectly happy with a 1-0 triumph on the road.
Dearth of goals
So why have the U’s, who smashed six goals past Crewe in August, and also hit three goals in five of their first 13 league games – at Cheltenham and Oldham, and against Cambridge, Yeovil and Crawley at home – suddenly stopped scoring goals?
Just eight goals in their last 12 league fixtures is a worrying statistic, though at least a superb defence at the end of the pitch has ensured the U’s remain in the thick of the promotion race.
Luke Norris and Sammie Szmodics are the joint top scorers, with eight goals apiece, but both have suffered a dip in form of late.
Summer signing Norris raced to eight goals by the middle of October, but ironically the eighth and last of these was in mid-October, in that aforementioned 3-1 win over Crawley.
The ex-Swindon marksman was obviously not helped by an ankle injury, that kept him sidelined for five weeks, but he was beginning to struggle before the injury and has not been back to his best since his return.
Norris has no goals in his last nine outings, though every striker goes through barren spells in front of goal, and the same can be said of Szmodics, operating in an attacking midfield role behind the front man.
Szmodics also has eight goals, and he was nominated for the League Two player-of-the-month for November after scoring three times in that month, earning the U’s seven points in the process.
But the 23-year-old has drawn a blank throughout December, and has looked slightly out-of-sorts in front of goal in recent matches. Hopefully, that will turn with the advent of a new year.
So the U’s chief attacking weapons are not firing on all cylinders, and it has been left to skipper and centre-half Luke Prosser to bag the only two goals of the last four matches, in the 1-0 win at MK Dons and the 2-1 home defeat to Stevenage on Boxing Day.
Case for the defence
While the U’s have been fluffing their lines, at the attacking end of the pitch, they have been far more impressive at the business end, as confirmed by Saturday’s dour stalemate against Morecambe.
The U’s back four was rarely troubled against the Shrimps, with centre-halves Prosser and Frankie Kent always in control, and full-backs Ryan Jackson and Kane Vincent-Young having ample opportunity to almost operate like roving wing-backs.
Keeper Rene Gilmartin had next-to-nothing to do, with the exception of parrying a long-range rocket from midfielder Jordan Cranston on the hour mark, and then gathering a regulation shot from substitute Kevin Ellison in the 70th minute.
Operating with two defensively-minded midfielders, in Tom Lapslie and Brandon Comley, gave the defence further protection, although perhaps this restricted the U’s attacking options.
Even so, an 11th clean-sheet from 25 games is a fantastic record.
A whisker away
Morecambe keeper, Mark Halstead, enjoyed a quiet afternoon, but he could have been picking the ball out of his net with just three minutes remaining.
Left-back Kane Vincent-Young, the U’s shining light of an otherwise dull afternoon, unleashed a stunning shot which cannoned back off the inside of the far post. That was a great effort, and really deserved a goal.
Football is all about fine margins.