The case for Colchester United’s defence is a strong one
- Credit: Richard Blaxall / Colchester Uni
Colchester United have the resilience, and the defensive qualities needed, to mount a successful promotion push this season.
Despite their terrible run of 13 games without a win (in all competitions), from mid-September through to mid-November, the U’s suddenly find themselves on the very fringes of the League Two play-offs.
And while the Us have been hitting the back of the net at regular intervals, led by joint top scorers Brennan Dickenson and Chris Porter (both seven goals), and Kurtis Guthrie on six, it is the defence that is really catching the eye.
The U’s have taken 19 points from a possible 21, in their last seven fixtures, thanks to six wins and a draw, and much of that success must come down to the recent introduction of a three-at-the-back system.
Since the implementation of that 3-4-1-2 formation, with Tom Eastman, Frankie Kent and George Elokobi as the trio of centre-halves, the U’s have conceded just three goals in seven matches, and kept five clean-sheets during that period of time.
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That contrasts starkly with the first 17 games of the season, which yielded just three clean-sheets and 26 goals conceded.
In fact, John McGreal’s men are now joint fifth in the clean-sheet charts, in League Two, behind miserly Portsmouth (11 clean-sheets) and Grimsby, Wycombe and Yeovil (all nine).
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U’s keeper Sam Walker has kept eight clean-sheets, level with Barnet, Exeter and Plymouth.
“Six weeks is a short time in football, and in fact a lot can happen in just a week,” explained manager McGreal.
“We have adapted to a new system of play, which is a credit to the players. I myself have always stayed positive throughout my career, even when we were going through a bad spell, and the players have shared in that.
“Only three goals conceded in seven games is terrific, and as a defender myself (ex-Tranmere, Ipswich and Burnley centre-half), I feel really proud of this record.”
The latest clean-sheet was in Monday’s battling 2-0 home win over lowly Cheltenham, thanks to goals from defender Eastman (10 minutes) and left wing-back Dickenson (84).
The Robins pushed for an equaliser in the second period, but the home defence stood firm, and keeper Walker made one terrific late save to claw away Billy Waters’ goalbound header from under his bar, with Elokobi completing the clearance with an overhead kick to safety.
“Cheltenham were getting in our box a lot late on, but Frankie (Kent) and Tom (Eastman) blocked holes in the defence, and there were some good clearances from George (Elokobi).
“They put themselves about,” continued McGreal.
“Sam (Walker) is back to his best. He made a great save in the second half, just when they were getting a bit of territory.
“He pulled off a wonderful save, because I thought the ball was going over his head and into the top corner of the net.
“Sam wants his clean-sheet as much as anyone. The number of clean-sheets he has had in a short space of time is terrific. He thrives on that.”
Over the last six weeks, the U’s have doubled Cheltenham, beaten Crewe and Notts County at home, and won at Luton and Stevenage.
And in the course of seven days, over the festive period, they won three games on the bounce.
McGreal confirmed: “Three wins in the last seven days is a terrific feat to be honest, whatever division you are in – it is a major achievement.
“I certainly didn’t do it as a player, over the Christmas period, and it was hard with two away and one at home this time.”