Considering this season could well be looked back on in years to come as the moment a new era of stability began at Colchester United, it has – as STUART WATSON reports – been something of a rollercoaster at times.

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No money for the new boss, yet plenty of new faces to get excited about. Goals and excitement galore at home, head-scratchingly poor away. Key players sold and injured, yet rarely outside the top-half in League One.

Considering this season could well be looked back on in years to come as the moment a new era of stability began at Colchester United, it has – as STUART WATSON reports – been something of a rollercoaster at times.

MANAGERIAL CHANGE

Aidy Boothroyd became the second successive U’s manager to walk away from the club after less than 10 months in charge when he was appointed by Championship side Coventry.

Unlike Paul Lambert’s switch to Norwich though this time the move was wholly amicable. Despite having just finished eighth in the League One table – the club’s fourth highest Football League finish in their history – many U’s fans were unhappy with a direct and soulless style of play.

Instead of appointing another marquee name, chairman Robbie Cowling promoted Boothroyd’s experienced assistant John Ward to the hotseat.

Cowling stressed that – having spent big for two seasons in an attempt to bounce quickly back into the Championship – a more prudent, stable and long-term approach would now be required, while Ward insisted that he would try to get the side playing entertaining football.

SIGNINGS

With key players such as Clive Platt, Kevin Lisbie, David Prutton, David Fox and Danny Batth leaving the club, Ward barely spent a penny when bringing in replacements. Brian Wilson and Lloyd James had both been made free agents, Andy Bond and Ben Coker were plucked from non-league football, while David Mooney was brought in on loan.

AUGUST

After losing keeper Ben Williams and striker Steven Gillespie to injury over pre-season, Ward’s promise of entertainment was evident from the very first kick.

Colchester quickly went 1-0 behind at EXETER only to lead 2-1 by the 11th minute mark thanks to an Anthony Wordsworth brace. A late equaliser denied Ward victory in his first game in charge.

When Mooney scored a stunning brace in the 3-0 League Cup win at HEREFORD three days’ later few would have predicted that the Irishman would go almost the entire campaign without registering an away league goal.

Bond then announced himself on the scene with a stunning outside of the boot opener against newly-relegated SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY, but again the U’s were denied by a late equaliser.

Ward’s first win duly followed thanks to Colchester getting a late goal of their own. Bond had given the U’s the lead at ROCHDALE and, after the newly-promoted side equalised, Ian Henderson shocked the hosts with a winner.

Keeper Mark Cousins had a night to forget at SUNDERLAND in the Carling Cup as his two glaring errors allowed Darren Bent to score both goals. The U’s more than held their own against the Premier League side though.

The month then finished with Colchester being denied victory by yet another last gasp leveller. This time, CARLISLE forced the equaliser their pressure deserved in stoppage-time.

SEPTEMBER

The month started with another impressive away win – Bond on target again as he headed in the only goal of the game after 83 minutes at WALSALL. The midfielder, who the previous season had been playing in the Blue Square Premier for Barrow, then sensationally made it four goals in five games with his opener against PLYMOUTH. In a rapidly recurring theme though the U’s could not hold on to victory and drew 1-1.

Keeper Cousins was the hero at SOUTHAMPTON, making numerous breathtaking saves as Colchester held out for a backs-to-the-wall goalless draw.

And that was followed up with a thumping 3-1 home victory over TRANMERE with Mooney, Wordsworth and Magnus Okuonghae’s goals all coming within the opening 31 minutes.

Three days’ later the U’s had to make do with a point in an Essex derby against newly-promoted DAGENHAM & REDBRIDGE. Having come from behind to lead 2-1 through Ashley Vincent and Mooney goals, a lead was once again surrendered.

OCTOBER

Playing with a fluid 4-3-3 formation, Colchester had started the season providing plenty of the entertainment Ward had promised. That once again proved to be the case at MK DONS when they completely dominated the first half to lead through Okuonghae’s goal only to concede yet another equaliser.

It sparked a glass half-empty or half-full debate. On one hand the U’s had made a record 10-game unbeaten start to the campaign, while on the other 12 points had been dropped from winning positions.

With Williams returning to the team in goal, back-to-back home defeats followed. First the U’s lost 2-0 to fierce rivals WYCOMBE in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy before they were thrashed 3-0 by HUDDERSFIELD.

A forgettable goalless draw at OLDHAM steadied the ship, before two superb wins elevated the U’s up to third in the table by the end of the month.

A switch back to a more traditional 4-4-2 style formation saw substitute Kayode Odejayi score a brace and seal a come-from-behind 2-1 home win over NOTTS COUNTY, before the notable away scalp of BOURNEMOUTH (1-2) was taken.

NOVEMBER

Colchester was the place to be for excitement in November as the U’s edged two five-goal thrillers in the league and a seven-goal thriller in the cup. And having previously been the team that dropped points from winning positions, the U’s suddenly became a side that gained points from losing positions.

Ward’s men came from two down to beat LEYTON ORIENT 3-2 before winning an FA Cup classic against League Two side BRADFORD 4-3.

There was also a 3-2 victory over HARTLEPOOL; Colchester coming from behind to lead 2-1, conceding an 88th-minute equaliser only for Odejayi to win it at the very death. That proved to be Okuonghae’s last game of the season though as it was decided a serious blood flow problem in his foot needed surgery.

The U’s finally lost their first away league game of the season at SWINDON (2-1) amongst those fixtures. Little did they know that it would be the start of a miserable spell of form on their travels.

The month ended on a bit of a deflated note as BRENTFORD won 2-0 in Essex before the crowd voiced their discontent as Colchester laboured to a 1-0 FA Cup win over non-league minnows SWINDON SUPERMARINE.

DECEMBER

The freezing weather conditions meant the U’s played only once in December – a drab goalless draw at home against YEOVIL.

JANUARY

With left-back Marc Tierney and centre-back Paul Reid sold to Championship clubs Norwich and Scunthorpe respectively in the transfer window and right-back Wilson ruled out for eight weeks with an ankle injury, the U’s began 2011 with a completely different back four to the one which started the season.

The New Year started with an action-packed 3-3 home draw against CHARLTON. Colchester led three times, former U’s man Johnnie Jackson twice equalised and both teams had men dismissed in a dramatic match.

That appeared to take its toll as the U’s then conceded four goals in each of their next two games as they left LEYTON ORIENT defeated 4-2 and exited the FA Cup third round with a 4-0 thrashing at Championship club SWANSEA.

Striker Gillespie – having missed much of the campaign through injury – returned with a bang, coming off the bench to score the goals which sealed a 2-1 come-from-behind home win over BOURNEMOUTH in front of the TV cameras.

A hard-fought goalless draw at HUDDERSFIELD and a valiant 2-0 defeat at league leaders BRIGHTON followed, before a 2-1 come-from-behind home win was secured on a memorable Friday night against PETERBOROUGH.

FEBRUARY

Yet more disruptions in defence as Clarke was brought in on loan from Huddersfield, Pat Baldwin was ruled out for the season with an ankle injury and Cousins returned in goal following another injury to Williams.

Going into February just two points adrift of the play-offs, U’s fans will forever look back on the refereeing controversy at CHARLTON as a major turning point in their season. Gillespie had a perfectly good goal disallowed and the U’s went on to lose 1-0.

Barring a rip-roaring 1-1 draw at PETERBOROUGH, the U’s away from took a serious nose-dive with defeats at lowly trio HARTLEPOOL (0-1), NOTTS COUNTY (0-2) and PLYMOUTH (1-2).

The continuation of their superb home form kept the Ward’s men in touch with the top six though, with SWINDON (2-1) and WALSALL (2-0) both beaten in Essex.

MARCH

A 1-0 win at BRISTOL ROVERS – Odejayi becoming the first U’s striker to score an away league goal in just over a year – briefly restored hope before four straight defeats appeared to finally destroy any lingering promotion ambitions.

SOUTHAMPTON (0-2) and MK DONS (1-3) both won in Essex, while there were more away defeats to lowly opposition in the form of DAGENHAM & REDBRIDGE (0-1) and TRANMERE (0-1) to leave the U’s nearer the relegation zone than the top six.

Colchester refused to give up the ghost though and showed bundles of character to finish the month with back-to-back home wins over OLDHAM (1-0) and nine-man EXETER (5-1).

APRIL/MAY

The season eventually came to an anti-climactic finish, with strong home form and a continuation of dire away results keeping them in mid-table.

Defeats at SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY (1-2), CARLISLE (1-4) sandwiched a 1-0 home win over ROCHDALE, before the Easter weekend was made up of respectable 1-1 draws away at BRENTFORD and at home against already-crowned champions BRIGHTON.

The U’s finally found their away-day shooting boots at YEOVIL – Mooney eventually getting his first away league goal of the season at the final attempt – but this time their defence let them down as they were defeated 4-2.

A solid home win over already-relegated BRISTOL ROVERS confirmed a 10th place finish.

– EADT reporter Stuart Watson watched every Colchester United league game – home and away – this season. For his personal analysis of what went right and what went wrong this campaign, see tomorrow’s paper.

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