Talking Points after play-off chasing U's thriller against MK Dons
PUBLISHED: 11:22 28 April 2019 | UPDATED: 11:22 28 April 2019
© Copyright Stephen Waller
Colchester United saved one of their best performances of the whole season until their final home fixture, and it was well worth the waiting.
Goals at the start of each half, from home-grown players Sammie Szmodics and Frankie Kent, ensured that the U's interest in the play-offs will live on into the final weekend.
MK Dons, chasing an automatic promotion slot, would have gone second in the table with a win, behind champions Lincoln City, who entertain the U's next Saturday.
But Dons boss Paul Tisdale had no complaints with the result – he felt that his side did not deserve to get anything from their visit to a colourful and noisy JobServe Community Stadium.
A crowd of 5,000 enjoyed an entertaining match – 1,007 of them having made the journey from Milton Keynes – and it speaks volumes for the U's that they managed to complete a league double over one of the best footballing sides in the fourth tier (they won 1-0 at Stadium MK before Christmas).
It all sets up what promises to be a very exciting, but also very nervous, last weekend of the regular season.
How it stands
The U's will have a chance of gate-crashing the top seven, regardless of what happens elsewhere before next Saturday's trip to Sincil Bank.
Unfortunately for John McGreal's men, all their chief rivals for the last play-off berth also won over the weekend, including seventh-placed Exeter City, who notched a 79th minute winner to beat Oldham 1-0.
The U's are just one place and two points behind the Grecians, so they must hope that the Devon side lose at Forest Green Rovers (already assured of a top-seven spot) next Saturday, to leapfrog them in the table with a win at Lincoln.
If they were to beat the Imps by at least a two-goal margin, however, then the U's would still finish above Exeter if the match at Forest Green ended in a draw.
However, Newport County could well end up being in the box seat to take seventh spot.
The Welsh club are level on points with the U's, but if they win their game in hand at home to Oldham on Tuesday, then the Welsh club will be in seventh going into the final weekend, when they travel to Morecambe.
Newport's goal difference is poor so, in essence, the U's need to win at Lincoln and hope that Exeter lose (or perhaps only draw, depending on goal difference) at Forest Green Rovers, and Newport lose one of their last two games (or draw them both).
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Carlisle and Stevenage are also level on points with the U's, but with an inferior goal difference, so they would need to win their final games (at Yeovil and at home to Cheltenham respectively), by big margins to be in with a shout.
The U's have enjoyed some big days this season, most notably a 6-0 thrashing of Crewe (last August), a 1-0 home win over leaders Lincoln (late October) and a 4-0 romp at Northampton (start of February).
But Saturday's display was on a par with all these highlights.
The U's attacked from the first whistle, buoyed by the energy of Sammie Szmodics, the pace of Courtney Senior, and the raw power of Frank Nouble.
Brennan Dickenson and Abo Eisa combined well down the left, veteran Sam Saunders covered every blade of grass, and centre-halves Tom Eastman and Kent were imperious at the back.
Rookie keeper Ethan Ross, on his full debut, also looked the part. The 22-year-old was well protected by his defence, but still looked very assured when venturing off his line to deal with crosses pumped into the danger zone.
It was end-to-end entertainment.
The U's could have scored three or four goals before half-time, while MK Dons struck the woodwork twice and had a goal disallowed for offside.
It could have ended 5-2, but the U's were more than happy with their 2-0 victory.
Szmodics broke the deadlock after just 95 seconds, rifling home a low shot after Saunders' corner had only been half-cleared. It was his 13th goal of the season.
Kent doubled the lead with a terrific team-goal in the 48th minute. Having started the move, Kent ended up steering home a 12-yard shot after Nouble's strong run and Szmodics' lay-off.
Senior missed two golden chances to score, when one-on-one with keeper Lee Nicholls, but overall the U's were terrific.