Four talking points: A bitter-sweet day for Colchester United
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Here are a few talking points from Saturday’s roller coaster ride of emotions at Colchester United, following a 2-0 home win over Yeovil.
In a nutshell
For half of Saturday’s final-day shoot-out, between a half-dozen teams gunning for two play-offs spots, Colchester United were sitting in the top seven.
From the moment that Tarique Fosu drilled the U’s into a 36th minute lead, right through until a minute after Fosu had swept home his second on 77 minutes, John McGreal’s men were occupying seventh spot, the final play-off berth.
The excitement had been building all game, with U’s fans believing that the unlikely could be achieved – their team had begun the day three places adrift of the top seven, and yet rivals Stevenage, Cambridge and Carlisle were all faltering.
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Stevenage leaked three goals in the final 20 minutes to lose 3-0 at home to Accrington, and so drop out of the play-off zone when it mattered most, while Cambridge conceded midway through the second half to lose at Wycombe.
That left just Carlisle – and the Cumbrians were trailing 2-1 in distant Devon, at the hands of fifth-placed Exeter.
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News broke that Danny Grainger had levelled with his second penalty of the afternoon, to make it 2-2 at St James’ Park, just before Fosu clinched an 11th win in 15 games for the U’s with his second of the game.
For a few seconds, there was pandemonium inside the Weston Homes Community Stadium, verging on the joyous scenes that greeted George Moncur’s famous late winner against Preston to secure League One status just two years earlier.
Alas, though, there was to be no happy ending this time.
Almost immediately, news filtered through that Jamie Proctor had headed Carlisle into a 3-1 lead (the 75-minute mark in that game), and so, all of a sudden, the U’s had been booted out of the play-off zone.
There was a very subdued atmosphere inside the ground, during the final quarter-of-an-hour. The U’s had done their job, and a very professional one, in securing a winning end to their first season back in the fourth tier for 19 years.
Home fans kept their fingers crossed, glancing at their phones in the forlorn hope that Exeter would muster a late equaliser, but for once their prayers were not answered.
Unlike the drama that unfolded at the other end of the table, with Newport County completing the great escape by scoring a last ditch winner against Notts County, to condemn Hartlepool to relegation out of the Football League (after an unbroken 96 years as a Football League club), there were no late scene changes towards the top of League Two.
And so the bad news: the U’s will remain in the fourth tier, for another season, missing out on a potential Wembley trip for a play-off final.
But to the good news: the Club has clearly made huge strides over the last 12 months.
U’s boss John McGreal had appealed for a few more of his players to get amongst the goals, in support of the usual suspects, during the final weeks of the season. Kurtis Guthrie and Brennan Dickenson, both on 12 goals, were both nursing long-term injuries, putting the pressure on Chris Porter (final tally of 16 goals) to keep scoring.
And it was Tarique Fosu who stepped up to the plate.
The Reading loanee netted the opener in the previous weekend’s 3-1 away win at Leyton Orient, and he duly added his fifth and sixth goals of the season to see off visiting Yeovil.
Fosu has certainly proved to be one of the most effective loanees of recent times, especially during the second half of this campaign.
The player himself has suggested that he would like to be a Colchester United player next season, if Reading do not offer him a new deal (his current contract expires this summer), and U’s boss McGreal has already confirmed that he would be interested in Fosu returning to the fold. But that is for the future.
U’s fans will wish Fosu well, wherever his next move.
Terrific home record
The U’s have so often struggled at the Community Stadium, since their move from Layer Road in 2008, but that is no longer the case.
They ended the season with the joint second best home record in League Two, matching Portsmouth’s Fratton Park haul of 46 points, and finishing just two points short of Doncaster’s home total of 48.
In fact, no team in League Two won more than the 14 home victories secured by the U’s in 2016-17, a remarkable statistic when noted that the U’s failed to win in seven home games (four in the league) between mid-September and late November.
They finished up winning 11 of their last 15 home fixtures, drawing against already-promoted Doncaster and Plymouth, and losing just two.
What might have been?
In the end, the U’s fell just one place and one point (effectively two because of goal difference) adrift of the play-off zone.
There are always a number of what-might-have-been moments, and near-misses, in any season, but one stands out for the U’s class of 2016-17.
And that was only from three weeks ago.
The U’s were 1-0 up at Morecambe, and seemingly cruising to their long-awaited first away win of the year, when they needlessly gifted the Shrimps a soft penalty with 87 minutes on the clock.
Those two dropped points were pivotal, in the final analysis.