The odds are stacked against Colchester United
PUBLISHED: 06:00 22 January 2016
Sarah Lucy brown
Colchester United are no strangers to winning a relegation battle, but the odds are stacked against them this year, even more than their three previous escape acts.
This is the fourth successive year that the U’s have been at the wrong end of the League One table, fighting for their lives to cling onto their third-tier status.
After four years of occupying the top half of the table, since their relegation from the Championship in 2008, the U’s have now become accustomed to an annual dogfight.
In the past, previous managers Joe Dunne and Tony Humes have performed minor miracles to keep the U’s up.
But current incumbent Kevin Keen faces a bigger task to repeat the feat, during the second half of this campaign. All the statistics are against the class of 2015-16.
Tuesday night’s 1-1 draw against Fleetwood Town was a rare point gained in what has been a torrid last three months for the Essex club.
But it was really two points dropped, especially as Alex Gilbey had fired the U’s into a first-half lead, and given that Fleetwood were hovering just above the drop zone.
It meant that Keen’s men were still searching for their first league win, since a 2-1 home success over Port Vale on October 20, a 93 distant days ago.
Looking ahead to tomorrow’s trip to Scunthorpe, the U’s are desperate to turn the tide, not least because they could also drag the 16th-placed Iron into a late season struggle to beat the drop.
The U’s have improved, defensively – they are no longer the whipping boys of League One – but a run of 10 defeats and two draws in their last 12 league games (two points from a possible 36) and, looking further back, a mere six points gained from 51 in their last 17 outings, is real relegation form.
The comparison with the three previous seasons, at this stage, after 27 games played and 19 remaining, does not bring much cheer.
In 2012-13, when Dunne was at the helm, the U’s were only marginally better off than the current squad, in that they had accumulated one more point (23, as opposed to 22).
However, the U’s were only two points off safety, following that 27th game – a 2-1 home defeat by Scunthorpe on January 12, 2013 – and they were about to end a club record run of nine straight league defeats.
Ironically, the U’s recently equalled that club record nine successive league defeats, with a 1-0 loss at Gillingham, after Christmas, before ending it with a 1-1 draw at Oldham to welcome in 2016.
Back in 2012-13, Dunne’s side clinched a final day 2-0 win at Carlisle, via second-half goals from Gavin Massey and Tom Eastman, to avoid relegation. They had needed to take a point from this trip to Cumbria, to be assured of safety.
The following season (2013-14), the U’s were far better placed, with 19 fixtures to play. In fact, they had amassed 34 points, and had a goal difference of just minus one.
They were four points clear of the bottom four, although results took a down-turn during the last three months, and it needed a 4-1 home win over high-flying Brentford, on the penultimate weekend, to guarantee another year in the third-tier.
Last season, another one to go down to the wire, and the final day, again had Humes’ men in a healthier state than the current squad.
A 1-1 draw at Bradford City, when Chris Porter scored a cracking goal after just five minutes, had the U’s on 28 points after 27 games, and so six points better off than the club’s present plight.
Following that draw at Valley Parade, on January 31, 2015, the U’s were still in the relegation zone, but only one place and one point behind fifth-from-bottom Crewe.
The three teams below the U’s, after 27 games – Yeovil, Leyton Orient and Crawley – all went down at the end of the season.
But the U’s again produced heroics to stay up, thanks to George Moncur’s 82nd-minute winner on the final day, against promotion-chasing Preston.
But can the U’s produce similar heroics this year?
Keen has installed a new self-belief in the team, the defence is more solid, and the midfield trio of Owen Garvan, Alex Gilbey and George Moncur are beginning to find their best form.
But will it all be too little, too late?
After Tuesday night’s home draw against Fleetwood, manager Keen said: “The point doesn’t close the gap, but it’s a point towards the 30 we need from our remaining games.
“It’s a big ask, but I’m sure that once we get the one win, then we’ll be on our way.
“The players have been giving me absolutely everything, but we haven’t got the results we deserve.”
I would say that the chances of the U’s staying up this season are far slimmer than in the three previous campaigns.
However, experience has taught me one thing, at least – never write off the U’s!