Talking Points after the U’s first league defeat of the season
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Brilliant, clinical, energetic – these were all words applicable to Colchester United’s rip-roaring 6-0 destruction of Crewe Alexandra last Tuesday evening.
But alas, none of them could be used to describe the U’s follow-up showing, a lack-lustre 2-1 home defeat to Northampton Town on Saturday.
The sparkle was gone, there was no deadly finish, and lethargy seemed to kick in, even from the first whistle.
In the end, the Cobblers were good value for the three points, earned via Matt Crooks’ long-range thunderbolt on 48 minutes, and Billy Waters’ tap-in during injury-time.
The U’s did up their game during the last quarter of the match, and they even managed to grab a consolation, courtesy of defender Aaron Pierre’s 94th minute own goal.
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But they didn’t deserve anything else.
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All runs have to end at some time, but it’s a shame that the U’s could not have extended their unbeaten sequence to a fifth game, especially given that they now have back-to-back away league fixtures to come, at Cheltenham and then Tranmere over the next two weekends.
Despite Saturday’s defeat, a haul of eight points from a possible 15 is still a satisfactory return from their first five games.
John McGreal’s men are nestling in sixth spot, with a handy early goal difference.
In short, they have set themselves up for a successful season.
As always, though, it will be how they react to a defeat that is all-important.
Even though they disappointed last season, with a 13th-placed finish, they did have a tendency to bounce back well from a reverse, until their late slide out of the play-off picture.
Let’s hope that they can replicate that resilience this season, while embarking on a few more long unbeaten runs.
Although the U’s were below their best, a lot of credit has to go to Northampton Town, a fact not lost on home boss McGreal.
“You have to give credit to the opposition – Northampton did a good number on us. I have no complaints,” admitted McGreal.
The Cobblers were in a false position before kick-off, following their relegation from League One last season, and a total of just two points accrued from four games.
Dean Austin has a squad capable of mounting a promotion push, as seen by the strength of the bench, which was creaking with all the experience – the likes of ex-Ipswich Town attacker Dean Bowditch (aged 32), striker Andy Williams (32) and former U’s midfielder John-Joe OToole (29) were among the substitutes.
The visitors made their intentions known from very early on, dictating the pace of the game and creating all the best goal-scoring chances of the first hour.
The tall figure of Matt Crooks pulled the strings in midfield, Kevin Van Veen stretched the U’s defence with his tricky runs, and the Cobblers in general never gave the opposition any breathing space, when out of possession.
ENCOURAGING LAST QUARTER
Even though they played second fiddle for most of the afternoon, a change of personnel and formation did have the desired effect during the last 25 minutes.
Tom Eastman was introduced as a 63rd minute substitute, to allow the U’s to switch from a back four to a three-man defence, while strikers Mikael Mandron and Luke Norris were also introduced to freshen up the front-line.
The U’s very nearly grabbed an equaliser through Harry Pell in the 67th minute. The midfielder’s goalbound header was superbly diverted wide by keeper David Cornell.
Ten minutes later and Pell was in the spotlight again, watching as his 20-yard free-kick curled agonisingly wide of the post and brushed the side-netting.
Only the woodwork denied the U’s a goal in the 79th minute header. Substitute Norris, who had only been on the pitch for 60 minutes, rattled the bar with a thumping header.
Like at Mansfield, they did eventually scramble an injury-time goal. Sammie Szmodics had obliged with the 95th minute equaliser at Field Mill, and he was heavily involved in the 94th minute own goal by Pierre on Saturday, keeper Cornell having blocked his initial shot.
But this time it was not enough to earn a point, because Waters had tapped home the Cobblers’ second just four minutes earlier.
Saturday was a wake-up call, and a return to reality after the delights of Tuesday night.