Carl Marston's Comment: Will the U's make the League Two play-offs?
PUBLISHED: 06:04 15 March 2019
© Copyright Stephen Waller
Colchester United correspondent Carl Marston assesses the chances of the U's finishing the season in the League Two play-off zone.
Colchester United’s play-off hopes remain in the balance, going into the last nine fixtures of the season.
John McGreal’s men have spent the bulk of this campaign in the top seven, challenging for a play-off berth and, for a short while, threatening to challenge for a top-three automatic spot.
That top three is now effectively beyond the U’s reach – they are eight points adrift of third-placed Mansfield, and also fourth-placed MK Dons.
But the season could yet be extended by the excitement of a play-off campaign.
Here I examine the fors and againsts, in terms of the U’s play-off chances.
GLASS HALF FULL
1 Current position
The U’s are currently in the play-off zone (seventh), so they have given themselves a better-than-even chance of finishing in that position.
In fact, since mid-August, the U’s have not been outside the top eight, so they have always been in, or within striking distance, of the play-offs.
2 Winable fixtures
In between some very testing fixtures, the U’s do have two home games to look forward to against mid-table outfits in Oldham and Grimsby (neither are in the promotion hunt, nor are they in a relegation battle), plus visits to struggling sides Cambridge United and Yeovil Town, who are in the lower reaches of the table for a very good reason!
3 The figures
Looking back at the seventh-placed finishes in League Two, over the last 10 years, they range from just 68 points (Torquay United in 2010-11) up to 75 points (AFC Wimbledon in 2015-16 and Lincoln City last season).
The average number of points for seventh comes in at 71.2 points (rounded down to 71 points).
The U’s currently have 57 points from 37 games, which would suggest they need to collect 14 or 15 points from their last nine games to secure a play-off berth.
That equates to five wins from their last nine, or perhaps four wins and a couple of draws, or three wins and five draws.
It is very achievable.
4 Stronger squad.
Despite the current dearth of fit midfielders, the U’s do have a stronger-looking squad than last term.
In Tom Eastman, Frankie Kent and Luke Prosser, they have three reliable centre-halves, while up top Luke Norris, Frank Nouble and Mikael Mandron can all fill the centre-forward role.
Sammie Szmodics and Courtney Senior are also in form, and hopefully the midfield trio of Harry Pell, Brandon Comley and Tom Lapslie will all return soon to take part in the run-in.
The depth is there to sustain a promotion push.
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1 A tough run-in
The final two weekends of the season see the U’s entertain MK Dons, who could be vying for an automatic promotion slot, and then travelling on the final day to Lincoln City, who might be eying up the League Two title. And before then, they have a tricky trip to play-off rivals Exeter today, and an even more daunting visit to in-form Bury in mid-April.
These have come at just the wrong time, with three senior central midfielders all on the sidelines in recent weeks – Pell, Lapslie and Comley – and Ben Stevenson limping off with a groin injury on Tuesday night.
3 Off-the-boil strikers
Luke Norris has not looked the same player since injury struck last Autumn. Similarly, this term has not really got going for target man Mikael Mandron, while fellow attacker Frank Nouble serves a one-match suspension for the visit to Exeter this weekend.
4 Sam Walker missed
The U’s were always going to miss a keeper of Sam Walker’s calibre, following his switch to Reading last summer.
Walker was ever-present for the first 44 league games last season, and in all rattled up 155 league appearances over five years.
It is difficult to decide how many points Walker earned the U’s, with his top-notch keeping – he was certainly one of the best keepers in the lower two divisions, before his move into the Championship.
Dillon Barnes and Rene Gilmartin have not let the U’s down, and are both good keepers in their own right, but the Essex club have certainly missed Walker’s towering presence between the sticks this term.
Ironically, Walker has been sitting on the Reading substitutes’ bench for most of this season, having only made nine appearances for the Royals.
Having weighed up the pros and cons, I think that Colchester United WILL make the play-offs, just.
I predict they fill finish in either sixth or seventh, which would of course mean them playing the second leg of their play-off semi-finals away from home.
Given that the U’s finished a distant 13th last season, six places and 13 points adrift of the play-off zone, I think most supporters would have jumped at the chance to be in their current position, given the choice before a ball was kicked last summer.