Talking Points from Colchester United’s season of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’
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Colchester United’s season ended as it had begun – in an away defeat at a top-four club.
The U’s had kicked-off their 2017-18 campaign with a 3-1 defeat at Accrington Stanley, who went on to become crowned league champions, and on a sun-kissed final day of the season in Devon, John McGreal’s men again came up short in a 1-0 loss at fourth-placed Exeter City.
While the U’s under-performed at the Crown Ground, those long nine months ago in early August, they actually played well at St James’ Park on Saturday, only to again fail to deliver a killer touch.
The Essex club have developed a reputation for playing some neat football, and also boasting a miserly defence, but a lack of punch up top has been their big downfall.
As a result, the U’s have regressed rather than progressed this season.
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In 2016-17, they finished just one point and one place adrift of the play-offs, scoring 67 goals in the process, having taken their season to the wire on the final day.
By contrast, the class of 2017-18 finished a massive 13 points behind the top-seven, and down in the lower half of the table in 13th place. They only mustered 53 goals in those 46 fixtures, a big disappointment.
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Lack of goals
The U’s did have two players reach double figures, in Sammie Szmodics (13 goals) and Mikael Mandron (10 goals), but neither of these attackers covered themselves in glory during the key back-end of season.
Szmodics, in particular, failed to reach the heights of the first half of the campaign, which had yielded 12 goals in 21 appearances up to Boxing Day and prompted speculation over a big-money move during the January transfer window.
That move never materialised (there were reports of a potential £1m switch to Premier League side Bournemouth), and Szmodics ended up netting just once in his last 19 appearances, and none in his last 16 games.
That barren spell was not helped by a couple of penalty misses, early on in the damaging 1-0 home defeat to Yeovil in mid-March, and again at Exeter on Saturday when the stalemate had not yet been broken.
Ironically, Szmodics had bagged a brace in the 3-1 home win over the Grecians from early December, and was close to a hat-trick – the first goal of the afternoon was eventually credited as own goal.
A niggling back injury did not help, and Szmodics is still only aged 22. He has time on his side and, other than his penalty woes, he played well on Saturday.
Mandron, meanwhile, was replaced at half-time by Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe during an indifferent first-half showing at Exeter.
A haul of 10 goals for a centre-forward is not too shabby, but the ex-Wigan man only missed two league games all season.
Furthermore, he only managed two goals in his last 21 outings, a lean run stemming back to the turn of the year.
Mandron always contributes to the team, with his back-tracking and play from deep, but he needs to become more of a force where it hurts, in and around the six-yard box to develop into a very effective centre-forward at this level.
It was not the reason why Colchester United lost their final game of the season, but it was a key moment – Sammie Szmodics’ penalty miss on the hour mark.
Substitute Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe won the penalty, by drawing the foul from Pierce Sweeney, but Szmodics aimed his spot kick straight down the middle, with keeper Christy Pym making a good save.
The U’s dictated for much of the second period, but without further testing keeper Pym, and the Grecians showed why they will be contesting the play-offs, and not the U’s, by grabbing the winner in the 71st minute.
Robbie Simpson was in the right place at the far post to head home a precise cross by Sweeney.
Exeter had won the game, without playing well – a trick the U’s have yet to master.
Disappointing last few weeks
The U’s ended the season with four defeats from their last five matches, and just one point gained from a possible 15.
And looking further back, they only claimed three wins in their final 13 fixtures, a sequence of three victories on the bounce over Stevenage, Luton and Forest Green Rovers briefly lifting them back into the top 10.
It is fair to say, then, that this was a season of ‘ifs,’ ‘buts’ and ‘maybes.’