Colchester United 1 Carlisle United 1: Carl Marston’s Talking Points
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Colchester United are showing signs that they are the genuine article, with regards being strong promotion contenders this season.
In their last four matches, they have cashed in when playing well, with a 4-0 win at Northampton Town and a 3-0 success over Cheltenham, and dug deep to gain a valuable point when not playing at their best, away at Macclesfield (1-1) and again against Carlisle United on Saturday.
They richly deserve their current fifth spot in the table, to remain entrenched in the play-off zone, although they are a little off the pace (seven points adrift) for automatic promotion.
It remains very tight, but the U’s do seem to have what it takes to be involved in the end-of-season play-offs.
The top three looks like being a scramble for three-from-four between leaders Lincoln, in-form Bury, stubborn Mansfield and a rejuvenated MK Dons.
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But the U’s will be disappointed if they do not finish in the top seven.
Just two points separate the fifth-placed U’s from ninth-placed Tranmere, so there can be no let-up, but John McGreal’s men have the bit between their teeth.
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Elusive headed goal
Remarkably, Frankie Kent’s 84th minute equaliser, against impressive Carlisle United, was Colchester United’s first headed league goal of the season.
This is a crazy statistic, given that this was the U’s last match of the month of February, and their 34th of 46 league matches.
Kent had scored the only other headed goal this season, in the Checkatrade Trophy against Southend in October, but Saturday’s effort was the first recorded in the league by the U’s.
Brennan Dickenson delivered a cross from the left flank towards the near post, where fellow substitute Mikael Mandron did well to contest the ball with keeper Adam Collin.
The loose ball bounced into the path of Kent, who did well to guide a stooping header into an empty net from eight yards out.
Hopefully, that will now be the first of many headed goals, between now and the end of the season.
After the match, boss John McGreal said: “It’s remarkable that this is our first headed goal, given the size of the team and the number of crosses we have put into the box this season.”
In truth, the U’s were second best for most of the afternoon against a Carlisle side who remain just a point behind in the table.
Steve Pressley’s men had lost back-to-back matches, at the hands of Crewe and MK Dons, but they counter-attacked to good effect in the Essex sunshine and created all the game’s best chances, until the U’s stepped up a gear during the final quarter.
The Cumbrians forced a couple of smart blocks from keeper Rene Gilmartin in the first period.
On five minutes, Gilmartin did well to parry a header by Regan Slater, at point blank range, while the follow-up shot by O’Hare was screwed wide of the far post.
And while Collin had virtually nothing to do at the other end, Gilmartin was in the action again when clawing away a fierce 20-yarder from Hallam Hope.
Hope’s 10th league goal of the season, which arrived in the 57th minute, looked as though it would secure a league double for the Cumbrians, following on from their 4-0 win over the U’s at Brunton Park before Christmas.
Gilmartin did well to keep out the initial effort, after Mark Cullen had nudged a cross by Callum O’Hare goalwards, but Hope was in the right place to squeeze home the loose ball, despite the best efforts of Ryan Jackson on the goal-line.
Hope scooped two other chances over the bar, but the visitors were gradually pushed back and in the end could not hold on.
Impact of substitutes
The U’s bench creaked with power, potential and experience, so it was no surprise that when the substitutes were unleashed, they had a big influence on the final outcome.
Dickenson and Mandron, introduced for the final quarter of the game, gave the U’s a more direct threat.
The impressive Dickenson propelled crosses and long throws into the box, from the left touch-line, while Mandron made his presence felt inside the penalty area.
And with striker Luke Norris appearing late on, and Newcastle loanee Callum Roberts and centre-half Tom Eastman not even getting on the pitch, the squad has a welcome strength in depth.