“I have to keep pinching myself” – Colchester United teenager Tom Lapslie

Tony Humes

Tony Humes - Credit: Su Anderson

Tom Lapslie’s recent rise to first team stardom has been a rapid one – and now he’s had a taste, he wants even more.

Colchester United’s diminutive midfielder could hardly have played better during the first two league appearances of his career.

The 19-year-old produced a gutsy performance on his full debut, in the 2-0 home win over Leyton Orient, and followed that up with another no-nonsense display on a pudding-of-a-pitch at Bradford City in last weekend’s 1-1 draw.

Most of his opponents might be head-and-shoulders above him – he is only 5ft 6ins – but the teenager is not bothered in the slightest.

“I can’t believe it at the moment, I have to keep pinching myself,” admitted Lapslie.

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“I’m loving every minute of it. It’s what you want to do; being involved with the first team, playing on a first team pitch.

“The pitch at Bradford was a bit boggy, but I suppose it suited my style of play. It allowed me to get stuck in and get in and around people.

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“I’ve played on pitches like that before, so I was probably more used to it than lads who have just been at academies for most of their years.”

Instead of working his way up through the youth team set-up at Colchester, or at another professional club, Lapslie began his footballing career playing Sunday League football for Ongar Juniors, and then turning out for Maldon, until his switch to the U’s at under-16 level.

Despite his relatively short stature, Lapslie is not fazed by coming up against much bigger opponents.

“I’ve always been the smallest player on the pitch really,” he said.

“I’m used to it. I saw that James Hanson (Bradford striker) was six-foot-whatever, but it didn’t bother me going in to tackle him, or Billy Knott (rival midfielder).

“I just go in and tackle them. I’ll battle with anyone.”

He continued: “For me, all the hard work starts now.

“I’ve worked hard to get into the team, but I can work harder. I can’t bank on being in the team, it’s up to the manager every week to pick the team he wants out there on the pitch.

“But I’d like to be in the team every week, which means I have to work so hard.

“It’s what you dream of. Playing under-21 football is nice, but Bradford was the biggest crowd (13,917) I have ever played in front of. It’s what you want to do.

“Saturday wasn’t my greatest game, but it was a case of everyone battling.

“We wanted the three points, but it was a great finish (by Filipe Morais). Sammy (Walker) had no chance of saving that one. But I thought we deserved the point.

“With the position we are in at the moment we didn’t just want a draw, but I thought it was still a point gained, rather than two dropped.

“We knew that Bradford would be on a high, coming into the game on the back of the (4-2) win at Chelsea, but that lifted us a bit.

“We didn’t go there thinking that we had no chance, just because they had beaten Chelsea. We genuinely believed that we could have won.

“But now I want to play a key part in helping to keep Colchester up, for the rest of the season.”

Although his strength is as a defensive midfielder, Lapslie proved last Saturday that he has the ability to open up a defence, as confirmed by his terrific through ball for Chris Porter to slam home the U’s fifth minute opener.

“It was a great run from Chris (Porter), which left me with a massive gap to play the ball up to,” said the modest youngster.

“I didn’t have to drop it on a sixpence, I had half the pitch to aim at really. And it was a great finish by Chris.”

The U’s entertain relegation rivals Crewe on Saturday.

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