Colchester United 2 Newport County 0: Carl Marston’s Talking Points
PUBLISHED: 12:00 04 February 2018
© Copyright Stephen Waller
This could be the turning point of Colchester United’s season.
Perhaps I’m getting a little carried away, but the U’s showed enough against a strong Newport County side to suggest that they have the resources nescessary to mount a successful push for the play-offs.
Of course the result (2-0 home win) was all-important, and badly needed, a first victory in seven matches to halt their gradual slide down the table and prevent them being cast further adrift of the top seven.
But what was also encouraging was what happened in the days before the match – with the successful business in the transfer market – and the impact that these new recruits could have over the last three months of the season.
Midfielder Ben Stevenson, signed on loan from Wolves just hours after completing a permanent move from Coventry, looks a real find. The 21-year-old swept home the crucial opening goal on Saturday, on 59 minutes.
Fellow new loan signing, Liam Mandeville, was not even required against Newport. The Doncaster Rovers loanee, who is sure to have a big role to play in a play-off push, was an unused substitute, showing that boss John McGreal has more tricks up his sleeve.
The third loanee, winger Olamide Shodipo was not included in the squad, due to a minor injury, and with Brennan Dickenson just a couple of weeks away from a possible return to action, this could still be a thrilling final third of the season.
In short, there is much to look forward to.
A defeat would have left the U’s a distant eight points adrift of the play-offs, a big margin to make up. It would certainly have given them very little margin for error over the weeks to come.
But goals from Ben Stevenson and Tom Eastman, combined with another clean-sheet, lifted the U’s one place in the table, up to 10th slot, and to within five points of Exeter and Swindon, who currently occupy the final two League Two play-off berths.
The U’s were not playing badly, before the weekend, but a haul of just four points from a possible 18, in their previous six matches (four draws and two defeats) was beginning to be a concern.
But now they have a good series of fixtures in February, against teams all outside the top seven. They are at mid-table Carlisle next weekend, entertain Coventry in a midweek home fixture, and then finish the month with a trip to struggling Crewe and a home game against bottom club Barnet.
It was a little surprising that Courtney Senior was preferred to leading scorer Sammie Szmodics, in the withdrawn role behind the front two.
But it was an inspired decision.
Senior, on his full home league debut, was outstanding. He mesmerised Newport’s defence with some strong running, and was the master behind Stevenson’s opening goal.
The former Brentford trainee covered more than half the length of the pitch before crossing low to the near post, where the onrushing Stevenson calmly diverted the ball home.
But it wasn’t just one flash of brilliance from Senior – he was a constant threat, throughout his 74 minutes on the pitch. In fact, many home fans even booed when McGreal took the decision to replace Senior, with Szmodics coming on as a substitute.
They weren’t booing Szmodics’ introduction, or even because they were that annoyed with McGreal’s choice of a substitution. It was more that all U’s supporters in the ground were enjoying the performance of the young attacker, and didn’t want it to end.
The U’s bench was creaking with talent – Szmodics, Drey Wright and Tom Lapslie, three of the U’s Academy success stories, were dropped to the substitutes’ bench, sitting alongside new recruits Mandeville and Stevenson, with fellow striker Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe also available for good measure.
McGreal has excellent alternatives then, if things are not going well on the pitch.
Mikael Mandron and Kurtis Guthrie both missed good chances on Saturday, so they will have to be on their guard, especially with Mandeville lurking in the wings.
At least Mandron had a key part in the U’s second goal, his header from Brandon Comley’s corner being slid over the line by the outstretched Eastman.
Luke Prosser was superb on his return to the starting XI, while fellow centre-half Ryan Inniss is champing at the bit for a return, so the defence also looks solid.
The platform has been built for a cracking end to the season.