Colchester United 1 Port Vale 1: Carl Marston's 4 Talking Points
PUBLISHED: 16:12 24 December 2017
© Copyright Stephen Waller
Carl Marston's four main talking points following Colchester United's 1-1 home draw against Port Vale
Colchester United are in the same position at Christmas, as they were at the end of last season.
John McGreal’s men are just one point and one place off the League Two play-offs, and there is good reason for optimism going into the second half of this campaign.
Certainly, Saturday wasn’t necessarily a case of two points dropped, against lower-half-of-the-table opposition, despite the U’s holding a 1-0 lead for much of the match.
Port Vale are no mugs – they are a team on the up – and few people would begrudge them a point.
A 75th minute header from Marcus Harness sealed a 1-1 draw for the Valiants, after Sammie Szmodics had tucked home a 32nd minute opener.
In the end, both sides were largely satisfied with a point.
There appears to be no stopping Sammie Szmodics, who has now rattled up 11 goals for the season, in just 20 senior appearances, which is an average of more than a goal every two games.
That’s an impressive ratio for a 22-year-old who has already had a career’s worth of long-term injuries to overcome – and he is not even an out-and-out striker!
Szmodics made it six goals in his last seven matches with a poacher’s effort, just after the half-hour mark.
Captain Tom Lapslie was the creator with a terrific long pass down the left flank, which released Szmodics clear of the Vale defence.
There was a suspicion of offside, and Szmodics did appear to glance up towards the assistant referee before scurrying goalwards. He was a little over-heavy with his touch in the box, but was still able to squeeze his shot past hesitant keeper Ryan Boot from close-in.
Fresh from his brace in the previous home game, a 3-1 win over Exeter, and his late winner in the U’s previous outing, a 3-2 victory at Swindon last Friday week, Szmodics is quite simply in the form of his life.
He gave Vale’s defenders a torrid time, and so nearly restored the U’s lead with a shot that cannoned off the bar, just a minute after Harness’ equaliser in the second half.
The U’s management staff, and the club’s supporters, will be hoping that the January transfer window passes quickly, with Szmodics still a Colchester player by the time that February comes around.
The key moment
By contrast to his attacking team-mate Szmodics, the unfortunate Drey Wright cannot even buy a goal this season.
The 22-year-old has failed to score in 25 appearances, although he has been playing well and creating chances for others.
Wright looked odds on to break his duck for the campaign, just four minutes after Szmodics’ opener.
He was clean through on goal, following Mikael Mandron’s pass, but his shot was deflected wide of the near post off keeper Boot.
A goal at that stage, to double the U’s lead, might well have proved decisive. But as it was, Wright was left cursing his luck, once again this season.
Vale are good value
Port Vale had won six of their previous 10 matches, so their lowly league position (in 18th) was deceptive.
They dominated for large parts of the second half, and there was no real surprise when Burton Albion loanee, Marcus Harness, headed home substitute Tyler Denton’s accurate cross from six yards out for the equaliser.
Winger Denton had only been on the pitch for a matter of a few seconds, as a substitute, while for 23-year-old Harness it was the first league goal of his career.
Earlier, Dave Worrall should have scored in the very first minute, when failing to beat Sam Walker on a one-on-one situation, while Antony Kay struck the bar with a thunderous free-kick in the 63rd minute. Lapslie also cleared a header by Nathan Smith off the goal-line during an absorbing second period.
In short, Vale looked more like play-off contenders rather than relegation candidates on Saturday.
This draw extended the U’s excellent run to just two defeats in their last 14 league matches, since late September, kick-started by a 2-2 draw at Grimsby.
The Essex club have won eight and drawn the other four of those 14 fixtures, to claim an impressive haul of 28 points from a possible 42. And there are nine more points to play for over the next week, away at Crawley and Chesterfield, and at home to Cambridge.