Where did it all go wrong?
JUST what’s gone wrong at Colchester United?
Less than seven weeks ago the U’s were just one point off of the automatic promotion places. Aidy Boothroyd’s side hadn’t been out of the top four since the end of September and, with just four points separating them from table-toppers Norwich, the league title still wasn’t out the question.
Six defeats and two draws later, the Essex side have dropped out of the top six and are in serious danger of missing out on the play-offs.
It has been such a catastrophic run of form that a league table calculated from the last eight games shows that Colchester are only kept off the bottom by turmoil club Stockport.
Even Leyton Orient have taken one more point from the last eight and they sacked manager Geraint Williams last weekend.
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So what’s changed? The answer is, surprisingly, very little.
Yes there have been injuries, but not by the bucket load and not all at the same time.
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Meanwhile, tactically, Colchester have continued playing in exactly the same way which propelled them up the table earlier in the season.
It’s powerful, it’s direct and it’s organised. And it’s an approach that, when played to perfection, more often than not just about grinds out results.
Take have a look at the stats. Of Colchester’s 18 league wins this season, 12 have come by only a single goal margin. The system had been working – but only just.
With such a small margin for error, it has meant that even the slightest downturn in performance levels has led to a major change in results.
Boothroyd’s system relies heavily on what goes on in both boxes – and over the last eight games their downfall has fluctuated between a lack of ruthlessness in attack and key lapses in concentration in defence.
By the very nature of their style, Colchester are never going to score for fun. You only have to look at the fact that their top goalscorer – Kevin Lisbie with 12 – is just 18th in League One’s leading scorers’ list.
However, earlier in the season Steven Gillespie would have scored at Bristol Rovers, Ashley Vincent would have converted against Millwall and defeats would have been avoided.
On other occasions, it has been the defence switching off at vital moments which has cost the U’s dear of late.
Earlier in the season the Essex side’s defence looked watertight and had kept 13 clean sheets. Recently though, the back four have been guilty of falling asleep at crucial times.
Just take a look at Walsall’s late winner and Brentford’s two early goals for some prime examples.
It should also not be forgotten that simple fortune has not gone in the U’s favour at times in recent weeks. Lady luck certainly did not smile on the Essex side over the Easter weekend as the crossbar twice denied them at Exeter, while a freak own goal handed Millwall victory after an impressive display.
It’s a fine line between success and failure in football at the best of times, but taking into account the way Colchester play under Aidy Boothroyd this was always going to be exacerbated.
For the moment the U’s are very slightly on the wrong side of that line. The big question is, with just six games to go, can they get back on the other side of it in time?