Colchester United: Talking points from first pre-season outing

Ryan Jackson, left, on his U's debut at Maldon & Tiptree in Saturday's pre-season friendly.Picture:

Ryan Jackson, left, on his U's debut at Maldon & Tiptree in Saturday's pre-season friendly.Picture: RICHARD BLAXALL - Credit: Richard Blaxall / Colchester United

In a nutshell Colchester United’s first pre-season outing of the summer, at (Bostik) Isthmian North hosts Maldon & Tiptree, ended in a comfortable victory on Saturday.

Goals just before and after half-time, from Doug Loft on 43 minutes and Louis Dunne in the 55th minute, were the highlights of a satisfactory afternoon for John McGreal’s men.

The hot sunshine, at Park Drive, made it hard work for both squads, on what was also – in the words of U’s boss McGreal – a “sticky pitch.”

But four of the U’s long-term injury victims of the second half of last season – Sammie Szmodics, Frankie Kent, Denny Johnstone and Craig Slater – all made welcome returns to senior action.

The visitors dominated from start to finish, and peppered the target on countless occasions, but they only had two goals to show for their troubles.

Denny Johnstone, in action on his return from long-term injury at Maldon & Tiptree. The U's won 2-0,

Denny Johnstone, in action on his return from long-term injury at Maldon & Tiptree. The U's won 2-0, Johnstone playing the first 30 minutes. Picture: RICHARD BLAXALL - Credit: Richard Blaxall / Colchester United

Midfielder Loft, who missed most of last season with an Achilles injury, broke the deadlock just before the interval by squeezing home a 20-yarder low into the bottom corner of the net.

Young midfielder Dunne, 18, the son of former U’s boss Joe Dunne, then swept home the second after Craig Slater’s free-kick had caused problems in the home box.

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New signing

Doug Loft, right, celebrates his goal with his boot having flown off. Loft netted the opener in a 2-

Doug Loft, right, celebrates his goal with his boot having flown off. Loft netted the opener in a 2-0 win at Maldon & Tiptree in the U's first pre-season friendly of the summer. Picture: RICHARD BLAXALL - Credit: Richard Blaxall / Colchester United

U’s supporters rolled up in their numbers to watch the class of 2017-18 put through their early paces.

There was just one new summer signing on show, in the shape of Ryan Jackson, who was recruited from Gillingham to replace the departed Richard Brindley at the end of last month.

Otherwise, with the exception of an unnamed trialist from Bromley, all the faces were familiar.

Jackson, wearing Brindley’s old No. 2 shirt, operated as a right wing-back for the first 45 minutes.

The 26-year-old will not find it easy filling Brindley’s boots – the ex-Norwich man was a consistent performer last season – but he is not lacking in experience, having totalled 259 first-team appearances in League One, League Two and the National League Premier.

The early indications are that the U’s will persist with the three-man central defence that suited them well during the second half of last season, so Jackson will need to be an attacking threat as well as defensively solid in the wing-back role.

It is never easy to judge a new player, during early pre-season, but Jackson has the pace to get up and down the flank effectively.

Return of the walking wounded

The quartet of Slater, Kent, Johnstone and Szmodics all made welcome returns, after their respective injuries, and fellow long-term absentees Luke Prosser and Kurtis Guthrie are not far off a similar return to the fold.

McGreal explained: “We’ve limited the minutes for Denny and Szmodics, especially limiting them to 30 minutes. Slats (Slater) got 45 minutes and Frankie (Kent) a little bit more, being a centre-back and getting a lot of the ball.

“We were careful with those minutes for the boys, because they had put in a hell of a shift over the first 10 days and we didn’t want to over-exert them in the first game. We can now increase their work-load.

“Luke and Kurtis were doing the work on the pitch, before the game. There’s a little bit more patience needed with them, especially with Luke, who has been out for a bit longer than the other boys.

“Kurtis is not there as such, but he’s telling you that he is nearly there, because he’s a confident boy! But we’ve got to keep him back a little bit, for his own good. Hopefully, both will be playing in the next week or two.”

Good work-out

Boss McGreal was more than happy with his side’s first competitive outing of pre-season. They are in action again at Needham Market tomorrow night.

“We’ve had a good 10 days of training, and this was a great exercise for them. It’s great to see our lads get their 30 and 45 minutes, dividing the time up,” explained McGreal.

“The injured lads (from last season) have also come in and had no ill effects, so we can now push on for Monday and then go into another game on Tuesday.

“The pitch could have done with a bit of water on it, because it was a bit sticky and we both wanted to get our teams passing the ball. It was so hot, but we could face conditions like this on the first day of the season, so it’s good to get used to it.”

U’s squads

First-half team: Barnes, Jackson, Eastman, James, Kent, Edge, Loft, Murray, O’Sullivan, Wright, Johnstone (sub Szmodics, 30).

Second half: Walker, Vincent-Young, Wynter, Kent (sub Eastman, 65, sub James 81), Kinsella, Lapslie, Slater, Sembie-Ferris, Dunne, Szmodics (sub triallist, 65), Bonne.

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