Points target for Colchester United

The U's celebrate Tom Eastman's opening goal in the 2-0 home win over Cheltenham

The U's celebrate Tom Eastman's opening goal in the 2-0 home win over Cheltenham - Credit: Richard Blaxall / Colchester Uni

Colchester United will be in the play-off zone, if they can inflict only a third league defeat of the season on visiting Carlisle United tomorrow.

The U’s are currently one place and two points adrift of the top seven, but a win over the Cumbrians would propel them up to fifth in League Two, which would represent a remarkable change of fortunes inside just seven weeks.

John McGreal’s men were stuck in the relegation zone, before starting their fine run with a 3-0 win at Cheltenham on November 22.

Now they will complete a superb rise from 23rd to fifth spot, if they can defeat Carlisle, leapfrogging both seventh-placed Cambridge and sixth-placed Luton, who are not in league action this weekend.

Cambridge, with ex-U’s boss Joe Dunne as assistant manager, entertain Leeds United in an FA Cup third round tie on Monday evening, while Luton have an FA Cup tie at Accrington Stanley this Saturday.

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Looking further ahead, a total of 72 points looks the likely target for the U’s to reach the end-of-season play-offs.

The Essex club have not featured in the post-season play-offs since the 1997-98 campaign, when they clinched promotion from the same fourth tier (then known as Nationwide Division Three) with a Wembley victory over Torquay.

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Over the last dozen seasons, 72 points has largely been the barrier that needs to be reached, to finish in the top seven, just as 51 points is often seen as the safety net for teams to avoid relegation.

In fact, only twice in the last 12 years has 72 points not been enough to achieve a top-seven finish in the fourth tier – in 2007-08, when Wycombe finished seventh on 78 points, and again last season when AFC Wimbledon filled seventh spot on 75 points – and went on to win the play-offs to reach League One.

Crewe (2012), Dagenham & Redbridge (2010) and Northampton (2005) all needed 72 points to make the top seven, while back in 2006, the year that the U’s won automatic promotion to the Championship, Lincoln scraped into the top seven of League Two on a mere 66 points, although that was an exception in recent times.

McGreal’s men, following Monday’s 2-0 home win over Cheltenham, have already accrued 36 points from 24 games, so they are half-way to their target at just over the half-way point in the campaign.

They will need to accumulate another 36 points over their remaining 22 games, to give themselves a great opportunity of making the play-offs.

“It’s been an exciting last few weeks,” enthused McGreal.

“We’d love to play better in front of our home fans, but it was great to carry on our good run against Cheltenham.

“There are so many different ways to win football matches. Cheltenham were different to Stevenage (4-2 away win on Boxing Day), and there’s another 20-odd different games to come.”

Tomorrow’s visitors, Carlisle, suffered only their second defeat of the season last weekend when they were beaten 3-1 at home by Grimsby.

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