Areas where the U’s must improve to mount a promotion push for next season

PUBLISHED: 05:59 21 May 2018

Courtney Senior is congratulated on equalising at Lincoln City, during the U's penultimate away game of the season. The Imps won 2-1, but Senior looks like he has a bright future ahead of him. Picture: PAGEPIX

Courtney Senior is congratulated on equalising at Lincoln City, during the U's penultimate away game of the season. The Imps won 2-1, but Senior looks like he has a bright future ahead of him. Picture: PAGEPIX

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Colchester United failed to launch a sustained play-off bid last season. U’s writer CARL MARSTON identifies areas that need addressing for the 2018-19 campaign

Mikael Mandron reacts after a missed opportunity during the 1-0 home defeat to then-bottom club Barnet. Mandron scored 10 goals, but he did play 49 games   Picture: STEVE WALLER Mikael Mandron reacts after a missed opportunity during the 1-0 home defeat to then-bottom club Barnet. Mandron scored 10 goals, but he did play 49 games Picture: STEVE WALLER

In the end, Colchester United fell well short of reaching the League Two play-offs last season.

John McGreal’s men finished a distant 13 points behind the top seven, and six places off the play-off zone, down in the bottom half of the table.

They were on the fringe of the play-offs for much of the campaign but, with the exception of a couple of weeks in December, in the aftermath of away wins Swindon Town (3-2 on December 15) and at Crawley (2-0 on Boxing Day), they were never otherwise in the top seven.

In essence, they were always playing catch-up.

Luke Prosser applauds the travelling fans at Exeter City after the final game of the season. Prosser's future remains up in the air, although he has been offered a new deal by the U's. Picture: PAGEPIX Luke Prosser applauds the travelling fans at Exeter City after the final game of the season. Prosser's future remains up in the air, although he has been offered a new deal by the U's. Picture: PAGEPIX

For the U’s to achieve promotion next season, and return to League One at the third time of asking, improvements obviously have to be made.

But where? Here are a few of my suggestions.

A BETTER START

Ryan Gondoh tries to fend off the challenge of Swindon's Chris Hussey, during his U's debut as a substitute in late April. Gondoh could be a key player for the U's next season.  Picture: STEVE WALLER Ryan Gondoh tries to fend off the challenge of Swindon's Chris Hussey, during his U's debut as a substitute in late April. Gondoh could be a key player for the U's next season. Picture: STEVE WALLER

The U’s were always playing catch-up during 2017-18, simply because they failed to fly out of the starting blocks.

In fact, they got stuck in their blocks for quite a while.

Just two wins in their first 10 league matches, and two in 12 in all competitions, left the U’s down in 21st spot towards the end of September, just a couple of places above the drop zone with a mere nine points gathered from a possible 30.

Of course it is always feasible for a team to recover from a sluggish start, or even a poor first half of the season, but the task is harder and the mountain is higher.

The U's first signing of the summer, Harry Pell, left, challenges Brennan Dickenson while playing for his former club Cheltenham. Picture: RICHARD BLAXALL The U's first signing of the summer, Harry Pell, left, challenges Brennan Dickenson while playing for his former club Cheltenham. Picture: RICHARD BLAXALL

The U’s did improve, collecting three wins in October and three more in December, but ultimately they were made to pay for their indifferent first couple of months.

A PROVEN GOALSCORER

It is no coincidence that the promoted teams tend to have a prolific goalscorer in their ranks, and Colchester United sadly did not have one of these.

Top of the League Two charts last season was Billy Kee, and his 25 goals, together with eight assists, helped to guide Accrington Stanley to the League Two title.

Marc McNulty, in second spot with 24 goals, nursed Coventry City into the play-offs, while high-flying Luton Town, who finished as runners-up to champions Accrington, had the fourth highest scorer in Danny Hylton (21), and also the seventh highest in James Collins (19 goals).

Exeter City, through to the play-off final next Monday – where they will play Coventry – had the joint fifth highest scorer in Jayden Stockley (20 goals), while Wycombe Wanderers, the third of the teams to celebrate automatic promotion, had man mountain Adebayo Akinfenwa spearheading their attack with 17 goal.

A natural goalscorer does not guarantee promotion, or even a good season – Kristian Dennis scored 19 goals for Chesterfield, but could not help the Spireites from being relegated out of the Football League.

It must also be remembered that the last time the U’s won promotion from the fourth tier, back in 1997-98, the U’s did not have a prolific goalscorer. In fact, no one scored more than seven goals, with the quartet of Paul Abrahams, Neil Gregory, Mark Sale and Aaron Skelton all chipping in with seven.

But it does help, big-time, to have a regular source of goals..

Sammie Szmodics led the way for the Us, with 12 league goals, but he only netted one during the second half of the season, while Mikael Mandron toiled all season for his tally of 10 goals.

GOALS FROM ELSEWHERE

While on the subject of the last time the U’s won promotion to the third tier, in 1997-98, although Steve Wignall’s men were not blessed with an out-and-out goalscorer, an incredible 10 players did contribute five or more goals, and 12 scored at least three goals.

These goals, from all over the pitch, helped the U’s to reach the play-offs 20 years ago. Midfielders like Paul Buckle and David Gregory, plus defenders such as David Greene and Aaron Skelton, all played their part.

The U’s class of 2017-18 did not have that luxury. The team as a whole only mustered 53 goals in 46 league matches, the seventh lowest in the division, and other than Szmodics and Mandron, no other player managed to reach five goals.

Courtney Senior, an attacker with promise, did notch four goals, but all the rest could not get beyond three goals, at best.

Needless-to-say, the U’s midfielders, wide-players and defenders need to be contributing more goals for next season.

NEW RECRUITS

The arrival of Harry Pell, for a six-figure fee from Cheltenham Town, is a big plus. The U’s look well set in the centre of the park.

If Luke Prosser moves on, then an experienced centre-back will be on the wanted list, while Drey Wright’s move to St Johnstone on a free transfer might require a new wide-man, although a fully-fit Brennan Dickenson, together with the promising duo of Courtney Senior and Ryan Gondoh, might suffice.

Sam Walker’s anticipated exit will also prompt the look for a new keeper, to work alongside and also give competition to the young and inexperienced Dillon Barnes.

STRONGER FINISH

The U’s won just three of their last 13 games, to drop out of the play-off picture last term.

Needless-to-say, they must finish stronger next season if they want to stay the course and secure promotion.

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