Colchester United v Mansfield. ‘We should be doing better’ – midfielder Craig Slater
- Credit: Richard Blaxall / Colchester Uni
Craig Slater, fighting fit again after all his injury woes, talk to U’s correspondent CARL MARSTON ahead of tomorrow’s big match at home to Mansfield Town
Craig Slater is finally on the comeback trail, and he is desperate to make up for lost time.
An injury-plagued Slater made a welcome return as a 78th minute substitute during Tuesday evening’s Checkatrade Trophy group match against Gillingham.
And now the classy midfielder is ready to make his first league appearance, since the second weekend of the season, at home to high-flying Mansfield Town tomorrow.
Dogged by a hernia and related groin problems during the closing months of last season, which culminated in a double hernia operation, Slater’s start to this campaign was cut short by a hip injury.
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But the 23-year-old is now fit and raring to go, hoping to kick-start a U’s season which has so far failed to really catch fire.
“We should be doing better than we are, with the calibre of squad that we have,” admitted Slater following yesterday’s training session at Florence Park, Tiptree.
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“We have been inconsistent this season, just as we were inconsistent last season. We have a really good squad, but it has taken a while to all click.
“It’s frustrating. I think we are as good as any other team in this division, on our day, but we have got to make sure that we are on it, every week.”
With regards his own return to fitness, Slater continued: “I feel good at the moment, and it was so good to get back into it this week.
“I had got a good week of training under my belt, before Tuesday night, and that did wonders for my confidence.
“I’m hoping to get a few games under my belt now, because the injuries have dogged me since before the end of last season.
“The injury came back after the first game of this season, but I’m fighting fit again now, and I want to show what I can do.
“I don’t want to be injured. I want to be playing matches, as every footballer does.”
Slater’s only start of this season was the opening day 3-1 defeat at Accrington Stanley. He didn’t look particularly comfortable in that game, and was replaced at half-time as boss John McGreal reshuffled his pack.
The Scotsman was a substitute for the two matches that followed, against Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup and at home to Stevenage in the league.
That 76th minute substitute outing in a 1-1 draw against Stevenage was his last outing, before his long-awaited return during the U’s 1-0 defeat to Gillingham in the Trophy this week.
In the intervening seven weeks, he had been battling to overcome a hip injury, which he has eventually managed to do without resorting to an injection.
He might not be fit enough to start tomorrow – although McGreal does have a tendency to make a few surprise selections – but he will definitely be in the squad, and so is likely to feature against a strong-looking Mansfield side.
“It’s a massive game this weekend,” said Slater. “They are a very good side, but we are at home and we will be expected to win, with home advantage.
“Mansfield have a very experienced manager (Steve Evans) and are very effective with their certain style of play.
“We will have to match that, and do better than that to get the win, which means working very hard.
“If asked, of course I’m ready to start, although I am lacking a bit of match fitness. I’ve tried to get myself into good shape, with all the training, to give myself the best possible chance.
“I’m determined to show what I can do. I had spells last season when I was playing well, but not for as long as I would have liked.
“The aim is to now stay injury-free. It’s all systems go, and I am feeling very positive.
“There was talk of me having an injection, but that was put off because I started to recover well. I didn’t feel that I needed an injection, and it’s best to have a natural recovery if possible.”
Signed from Scottish Premiership outfit Kilmarnock during the summer of 2016, Slater scored three goals in 32 senior games last season, the highlight being a late winner in a 1-0 victory at Luton Town on Boxing Day.
He will add competition to a midfield department which also includes Tom Lapslie, Brandon Comley, Doug Loft, Sean Murray, Sammie Szmodics and Tommy O’Sullivan.
“It’s a healthy competition for places, “ said Slater.
“You’ve got to be ready to step in at any point. There’s certainly a lot more to come from me.”
While Slater is fit again, Szmodics is out of action for four weeks with an ankle injury, Lapslie is out for a fortnight with a calf problem, and Loft is struggling with a sore hamstring.