Colchester United comment: U's are the genuine article this season
PUBLISHED: 12:39 16 September 2018
© Copyright Stephen Waller
This is not a false dawn – Colchester United look the real deal this season.
A fourth win from eight starts, and a third success from their first four home matches, sees the U’s up to fourth in League Two and just one point adrift of the top three.
Goals from Sammie Szmodics, Frank Nouble and Courtney Senior brushed aside the challenge of Joe Dunne’s Cambridge United on Saturday, in front of a 4,000-plus crowd.
A haul of 15 points from a possible 24 represents the U’s best start to a season for 14 years, harking back to the heady days of Phil Parkinson.
The class of 2004-05 also amassed 15 points from their first eight fixtures, and although the U’s ended up finishing down in 15th spot, they were distracted by two good cup runs in the League Cup and FA Cup. Furthermore, a similar squad did go on to achieve promotion the following year.
The current-day U’s are strong in all departments, that much is clear already.
Much will hinge, though, on whether they can steer clear of debilitating injuries, especially to some of their key personnel, because although there is competition for places, the squad is not as big as last term.
The U’s have scored more goals than any other team in League Two – and that’s not something that can be said every year!
John MGreal’s men have plundered 17 goals in their first eight league matches, one more than leaders Lincoln and two more than second-placed Exeter.
Moreover, the goals are being spread around the team, with nine players already off the mark for the season after only six weeks.
Frank Nouble was the ninth U’s player to open his scoring account on Saturday, and there is nothing to suggest that the Essex club’s rich vein of form in front of goal will not continue.
Cambridge had just as many chances as their hosts, but they lacked a killer touch, which is the prime reason why they are down in 19th slot with only Adebayo Azeez, a substitute on Saturday, having scored more than one goal.
At the other end of the pitch, the U’s are proving a very tough nut to crack, whether that be with a flat back four or three centre-halves.
Boss John McGreal seems to have settled on a 4-2-3-1 formation at the moment, and it is bringing some impressive results.
Central midfielders Harry Pell and Brandon Comley offered extra protection for the back four, and it is testimony to the form of Frankie Kent and Luke Prosser that stalwart Tom Eastman, with nearly 300 senior games under his belt, is having to keep the bench warm and await his chance.
McGreal has often referred to the pair of Ryan Jackson and Kane Vincent-Young as two of the best full-backs in the division, while young keeper Dillon Barnes is growing in confidence with every match that passes.
Barnes made a number of good saves on Saturday, producing his best display of the season.
Overall, the U’s have the third best defensive record in the division, conceding a mere five goals in eight matches. Only Yeovil (three) and MK Dons (four) have conceded fewer goals.
Sammie Szmodics broke the deadlock in the 23rd minute, to celebrate his third goal of the season. Last season’s leading marksman latched onto a poke forward by Luke Norris and obliged with a crisp finish past an exposed David Forde.
Frank Nouble doubled the lead on 35 minutes, with what was his first competitive goal in a Colchester shirt. Summer signing Nouble burst forward onto a flick by Norris and showed terrific strength to hold off his marker before blasting a shot high into the far corner of the net from a tight angle.
The game was made safe by substitute Courtney Senior, who made the most of a defensive mistake to race through and guide his shot beyond the advancing David Forde on 80 minutes.
Other key moments took place at the other end of the pitch.
While the score was still 0-0, Dillon Barnes dived low to his left to claw away a goal-bound free-kick by George Maris, and Brennan Dickenson then superbly cleared off the goal-line from skipper Greg Taylor’s towering header from the ensuing corner.
Barnes also made an instinctive save to keep out former Colchester striker Jabo Ibehre’s effort early in the second half, while Dickenson denied Taylor for a second time with a last ditch clearance.
The signs are promising.