Mansfield Town 1 Colchester United 1: Carl Marston’s Talking Points
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Under normal circumstances, a draw away from home at an in-form Mansfield, having trailed for some of the game, would be considered an excellent point.
But it’s getting to the stage of the season where Colchester United need wins, not just hard-earned away draws, to mount a serious promotion bid.
True, the U’s have reduced the gap between themselves and the top seven to six points, thanks to managerless Swindon’s 3-0 home loss to Cheltenham, but they have also dropped into the lower half of the table as the scramble for that last seventh spot warms up.
They have 10 games left, and they might have to win seven of these fixtures, or at least six of them with a couple of draws thrown in for good measure, to gate-crash the play-offs.
On Saturday’s performance, all is not lost.
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They played well enough to suggest that a run of good results is not beyond them, especially if they can finally return to winning ways with a dominant display against struggling Yeovil Town this weekend. Another point, you feel, would not be enough.
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The U’s side that took Saturday’s game by the scruff of the neck was unrecognisable from the one that slithered to 1-0 defeats to lowly Crewe and Barnet in the previous two matches.
Manager John McGreal, quite understandably, does not want to dwell on those below-par outings, but it is quite remarkable that the U’s can be so poor against poor opposition, and yet so impressive against stronger opponents.
There was more urgency about the U’s play, more of a cutting edge and also a better looking balance to the team.
- Carl Marston’s Player Ratings
Mansfield just about deserved to be ahead at half-time, via Kane Hemmings’ 22nd minute opener, but the U’s took control of the second half and were unlucky not to score more than Brandon Comley’s 51st minute equaliser.
For much of that second period, the Stags were on the back foot, clinging on at times, much to the frustration of their home supporters who are demanding much under new boss Gary Flitcroft, following Steve Evans’ switch to Peterborough.
In the end Mansfield were probably just grateful to escape with a point, to cement their fifth spot and extend their run to just one defeat in 15 league games.
McGreal rung the changes, something he has been reluctant to do unless forced into by injuries – he sometimes tweaks the side, or the formation, but on Saturday he made five changes and also altered the system.
In came Brennan Dickenson, Drey Wright, Sammie Szmodics, Tom Lapslie and Kurtis Guthrie.
Out went Sean Murray and Mikael Mandron (both on the bench), while Ryan Inniss, Courtney Senior and Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe were not even in the 18-man squad.
And there is no doubt that these changes worked, giving the U’s a fresh look.
Lapslie was terrific in midfield, alongside fellow Academy product Szmodics, while Wright and Dickenson were both threats down the flank, and Guthrie kept the Stags’ back four on their toes.
The 4-1-4-1 formation worked well, especially with the extra width afford by natural wingers Wright and Dickenson, so the future still looks bright for the last seven weeks of the campaign.
To be serious contenders, though, they must add a killer touch to their play. That ingredient is still missing.
Good and bad
The ‘bad’ was Mansfield’s goal, which could have been prevented.
The U’s were caught out by a long ball over the top, delivered by keeper Conrad Logan, which dropped into the heart of the U’s defence. Striker Hemmings was the quickest to react, arriving before Sam Walker to clip the ball over the U’s keeper and into an empty net from eight yards out, despite the best efforts of Tom Eastman to try and clear the ball before it crossed the line.
It was a route-one goal.
The ‘bad’ was Colchester’s equaliser, just six minutes into the second period, which yielded Brandon Comley’s first goal for the club, and in fact the first goal of his professional career.
Lapslie did well down the right flank, and eventually laid the ball back for Comley, who then advanced several yards with no one ready to tackle, before finding the far corner of the net with a precise low shot from 15 yards out.
It was a deadly finish from the 22-year-old, who has been so consistent since his arrival from QPR last summer, initially on loan before the deal was made permanent in January.