MATCH PREVIEW: In-form Colchester United travel to buoyant Exeter City
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Only Exeter City sit above Colchester United in the League Two form table – the two teams set to meet in Devon this afternoon.
Both sides have won five of their last six games, drawing the other, leaving the U’s occupying the final play-off spot and Paul Tisdale’s team hot on their tails in 10th, four points adrift, having scored 11 goals in their last three games.
The U’s could move up to fifth in the table with a victory this afternoon, as the two teams immediately above them, Wycombe and Luton, meet at Adams Park.
John McGreal’s side will be full of confidence, just like Exeter, but the U’s can take heart from the Grecians’ home record this season – the West Country side having the third-worst in the division, taking just eight points from a possible 33 on offer.
Exeter have won their last two games at St James Park, their only home victories of the season, while Colchester have won three of their last four on the road.
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The U’s went into September’s home clash with Exeter fourth in the table, but left with their tails between their legs as second-bottom Exeter notched their second away win of the season, 3-2.
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Several games have passed since that day and while Colchester are now lower in the table, they are a far better team.
The U’s won their next game, at home to Blackpool, but then embarked on a run of one victory in 11, while Exeter failed to kick on.
However, the Grecians have finally got the bit between their teeth and are chasing down the top-seven.
Key to the two teams’ revivals has been their form over the last two months, the U’s having taken 23 points from a possible 27 since their last defeat and Exeter, 20 from a possible last 24.
Consistency has been a big factor too, both teams being able to field settled sides during their successful runs. Nine U’s players have started every game of their current nine-game unbeaten sequence.
Exeter have used more players but can point to a settled formation.
“We have had a constant selection over the past couple of months,” said City boss Paul Tisdale.
“We haven’t had to change too much and everyone knows their part in it.”
Colchester manager McGreal was still very much in the rookie stage of management when Exeter came to Essex and won 3-2, very much in contrast to Tisdale, who has managed almost 550 games at St James Park.
“He (Tisdale) is a great guy, we were new to the game and at the time when they beat us, he was saying, ‘You have got an awful lot in your team and once your injuries come back you have got a good team there’,” said McGreal.
“It was a good reassurance and sometimes managers don’t have to say that.”
Despite the duo’s respect for each other, there will be little sentiment this afternoon with the U’s determined to keep their impressive run going.
“It’s two teams that are playing particularly well at this time, both on really good runs,” said McGreal.
It’s a nice pitch, we have watched their games of late, and I am hoping and guessing that we will see a good footballing game.”
He added: “It (Exeter’s 3-2 win at Colchester) was a great game to watch and if it’s as open again and we win the points, then great.
“I am sure both teams will be going to win, both teams are in really good form. They will be looking forward to it, as we are.
“Training has been really good this week, the boys are in a fantastic place, they have got really good momentum behind them and there is a huge feel-good factor around the place at the minute, not only with the club, but that bond that the players are getting with the fans as well.”
The game today represents Colchester’s second on the road in a week, following last Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Newport.
After today, there is a two-week break before another long journey, to Blackpool, on February 4.
“We went to Newport last week and took over 300 fans, which is terrific, and I am guessing the same might happen again on Saturday,” McGreal said,
“We will have a real good following and it is all about developing that bond.
“Hopefully we can put in performances to keep them coming and to also make them proud.”
Ethan Ampadu and Joel Grant should be fit to return to the squad, but the injured Lee Holmes and Tom McCready miss out.
John McGreal is without Doug Loft (Achilles), Lewis Kinsella (ankle), Sammie Szmodics (foot) and Jermaine Grandison (hip).
Matt Briggs (hip) played 90 minutes and scored in the U’s under-23s 2-1 Premier League Cup win over Manchester City, on Thursday.
New signing Tommy O’Sullivan, could feature.
EXETER: Pym, Olejnik, Stacey, Brown, Moore-Taylor, Woodman, Wheeler, James, Tillson, Taylor, Harley, Simpson, Watkins, Reid, Oakley, McAlinden, Croll, Sweeney, Ampadu, Grant
COLCHESTER: Walker, Barnes, Brindley, Dickenson, Kent, Eastman, Elokobi, Lapslie, Garvan, Slater Porter, Guthrie, Doyley, Fosu, Barnes, Johnstone, Wynter, Vincent-Young, Wright, O’Sullivan