Carl Marston’s Talking Points after U’s superb 4-0 win at Northampton
- Credit: Richard Blaxall
The last week has potentially been a huge week in Colchester United’s season, and could well prove a turning point.
Off the pitch, the U’s strengthened with the addition of three new players before the transfer window shut, while at the same time managing to hold onto their best players.
And on the pitch, John McGreal’s blew away Northampton Town with some devastating attacking play at Sixfields on Saturday, scoring four times through Frank Nouble, Abo Eisa, Kane Vincent-Young and Sammie Szmodics.
Instead of beginning to drift out of the play-off picture, following back-to-back defeats at the hands of Mansfield and Crewe, suddenly the newly-strengthened U’s look capable of sustaining a promotion push over the last three months.
The new signings
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All three of the U’s new recruits played key roles in Saturday’s destruction of the Cobblers, a team who, although in lower mid-table, had only lost two home league games all season and had not lost at Sixfields since last September.
Ben Stevenson, an impressive signing, controlled the midfield. Recruited from Wolves, he pulled the strings, kept the ball, passed with accuracy, and also delivered the corner from which Nouble turned to crash home the U’s opener on 25 minutes.
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Similarly, Eisa made a huge impact when he was unleashed as a substitute, at the start of the second half.
The Shrewsbury Town loanee was simply electric, and certainly the Cobblers’ defence could simply not handle him.
Eisa took just five minutes to score a debut goal. The 23-year-old calmly swept home after Szmodics had teased the hosts with a strong, mazy run through the middle.
Having doubled the U’s lead in the 50th minute, winger Eisa then teed up Vincent-Young for a quality third goal, just three minutes later.
And there was still time for the U’s third new signing, Callum Roberts, introduced as an 81st minute substitute, to also make an impression.
The Newcastle United loanee won his new team a penalty, having ghosted into the box and been fouled by Dan Powell.
It did not really matter that Harry Pell missed the resultant spot kick.
The U’s look a very different squad with these three new players in it – a top-seven berth is now a distinct possibility.
It might seem strange, when you have just plundered four goals on the road, to seal the second biggest win of the season (behind the 6-0 home win over Crewe), to start talking about the defence, and the keeper in particular.
But in truth, Saturday’s clash could have ended 5-3, or 6-4.
Northampton were very wasteful in front of goal, but they also found Rene Gilmartin an impassable object.
Gilmartin produced one of his best performances in a U’s shirt, making three big saves and also being very dominant with crosses – he tends to punch to safety rather than catch, and is usually very effective.
The saves either side of half-time, when the U’s were still only nursing a 1-0 lead, were crucial.
The U’s goalkeeping coach beat away an angled drive by defender Ash Taylor, just before the break and then, within 15 seconds of the second half, he came to the U’s rescue when blocking a shot by Marvin Sordell, after the ex- U’s striker had burst through on goal.
That save, more than anything else, set up what was to follow in the second period.
The U’s had let half-time leads slip in the previous two weekends, against Mansfield (2-0 up) and at Crewe (1-0 up), and the alarm bells would have been sounding if Gilmartin had not denied Sordell.
It was a key moment.
The challenge ahead
This was the U’s biggest away win, since that famous opening day of the 2009-10 season, when Paul Lambert’s men destroyed Norwich City 7-1 at Carrow Road.
The challenge, now, is to carry on that momentum into the next game, and the rest of the season.
Despite Saturday’s great result, the U’s are still one point and one place adrift of the play-off zone, having also played a game more than the four teams immediately above them.
But, on the other hand, it is a very tight race for the play-offs, with just two point separating the eighth-placed U’s from fourth-placed Forest Green Rovers.
The U’s need to cash in against lowly Cheltenham this weekend. Back-to-back wins will see them back to business.