U's Mid-Season Review
We've handed the reins over to U's fan Dave Burch here, who brings us his account of the season to date. You can follow Dave's thoughts on the U's and all things football on Twitter @davioburchio.
There is a common saying that football is a 'funny old game', and it is proving to be a funny old season for Colchester United. Not funny in the 'haha' sense, either!
On reflection, this season was always going to be one where the U's were going to struggle. Kayode Odejayi, last season's Player of the Year, was instrumental in the way that John Ward wanted his side to play and he would go on to be a big miss in both penalty areas.
Steven Gillespie's sale came as a surprise as the U's marksman had just seemed to find his best form, but with the Financial Fair Play rules coming into force it made financial sense to sell the Scouse striker with the U's apparently recouping the initial fee that they paid Cheltenham for his services.
Midfielders Lloyd James and Martin Rowlands also departed the club. James was very inconsistent, but Rowlands' injury problems put to paid to the experienced midfield man earning a longer deal.
Winger Ashley Vincent was not offered a new deal and, looking at how well he has done for Port Vale this season, it looks like a bad move. Vincent was rather injury prone for the U's however, and did tend to only have one good game in five, so who am I to argue?!
Ben Williams' departure would also go on to affect the U's, with the long-serving number two Mark Cousins suffering a season of woe in his first season as the top choice to date.
The inbound players began with Freddie Sears, who spent the back end of the season on loan to the U's, and signed permanently on a three-year deal; a bit of a coup as he supposedly turned down the advances of other clubs to sign here. Marcus Bean came in to bolster the U's midfield with the former Brentford man also signing a three-year deal. Last, but not least, experienced striker Clinton Morrison completed Ward's summer dealings for the first team.
Full back Jackson Ramm and former Southend midfielder Merrick James-Lewis also joined, but they were signed mainly to bolster the U21s squad. Magnus Okuounghae originally rejected a new contract with the club, but a move to Nottingham Forest fell through due to their takeover and the defender soon took up the U's offer to sign a new three-year deal.
I have never been a fan of the League Cup starting before the league, but a long journey to Yeovil in the newly-named Capital One Cup saw the U's start their season with a whimper.
A 3-0 defeat to the Glovers certainly gave pause for thought for the U's fans (myself included) for what was to come. What frustrated me the most was that the goals Yeovil scored were almost carbon copies of those scored by the Somerset side at Huish Park the season before.
The league campaign started with a second successive trip to Preston's Deepdale on the opening day of the season. There was to be no repeat of last season's heroics in Lancashire though, as a strong defensive display saw the U's earn a point in a goalless draw.
The opening home game of the season saw a makeshift Portsmouth side, recently relegated from the second tier of English football, make their first ever visit to the Weston Homes Community Stadium. A turgid first half by the U's was brought to life on the stroke of half time as an absolute screamer of shot by left back Michael Rose cancelled out Luke Rodgers' 30th minute strike. The U's gained the upper hand late on through Magnus Okuonghae, but a swift counter attack pegged the U's back and the spoils were shared.
Sheffield United travelled to Essex for the next fixture and a battling performance against the Blades saw the U's earn a point through Clinton Morrison. Although how much the striker actually got onto the ball is debateable, he certainly enjoyed the celebrations against the city rivals of his former club, Sheffield Wednesday.
A crushing defeat followed on the Wirral, as the early pacesetters Tranmere Rovers ran riot over a poor U's effort, and a 4-0 defeat saw the U's comprehensively suffer their first league defeat of the season. John Ward's side suffered their second successive loss a week later as a late goal from Farid El-Alagui condemned the U's to a 1-0 defeat at Brentford.
Things did not get much better the next week as Doncaster Rovers came to town, and a calamitous error from Mark Cousins saw the U's 1-0 down inside the opening five minutes. The rookie 'keeper launched a throw towards Gavin Massey which was easily intercepted, and Donny winger David Cotterill floated the ball past Cousins for the opening goal.
Magnus Okuonghae got the U's back into the game on the half-hour mark and the U's had looked the more likely of grabbing the points in this game, but midfield man Andy Bond stole the show, planting a header past Cousins for an own goal to give the visiting South Yorkshire men victory.
Rough justice in the next encounter under the lights at the WHCS saw Crawley visit Essex for the first competitive league match between the two sides. The Red Devils took the lead in controversial fashion when Kyle McFadzean punched the ball out of Mark Cousins' hands and into the net. The referee evened things up when he awarded the U's a late penalty, and Anthony Wordsworth duly levelled the scores to earn the U's a point.
It was another controversial goal in the match against Scunthorpe United at Glanford Park that would lead to John Ward losing his job. The referee whistled for a spot kick for the Iron after Leon Clarke tripped over the ball in the penalty area, before dusting himself down and putting the ball into the net to leave the U's winless once again.
Just days after the sacking of Ward his number two and former U's stalwart, Joe Dunne, was given the opportunity to lead the side as manager. He had initially been appointed as caretaker manager, but his impression on Robbie Cowling was enough to see him given a deal until the end of the season.
Dunne didn't hesitate in bolstering the squad and signed Craig Eastmond and Sanchez Watt from Premier League side Arsenal, as well as bringing in the powerful MK Dons striker, Jabo Ibehre.
The Irishman's first game in charge saw struggling Hartlepool visit the WHCS, and an early mistake from Eastmond allowed the visitors to grab the lead. The U's rallied and were back on terms when a sublime through pass from Watt saw Gavin Massey round Scott Flinders and level the scores.
Ibehre was gifted a debut goal just before half time when an inexplicable back header from a Pools defender put the striker through on goal, and he calmly slotted the ball into the net. Into the second half, the U's started at a frenetic pace and Ibehre again scored, this time from a yard out.
Dunne's start got even better in the next match away at Swindon. Former Robin, Michael Rose, scored with a fantastic low free kick to hand the U's the points in a superb defensive performance, before Colchester tasted defeat at Huish Park for the second time in the season; Dunne's winning start coming to a crashing halt with a 3-1 defeat.
The U's suffered defeat in the First Round of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy away at Northampton Town. Colchester dominated the first half and deservedly took the lead through Freddie Sears, but a shocking second half cost them, with 18-year old debutant Alex Gilbey making a needless tackle to allow Adebayo Akinkenwa to wrap up the victory from the spot.
Things were soon back on track though, with a 1-0 victory over 10-man Stevenage being followed by a 2-0 win at home to Carlisle United. A third win on the trot away to Leyton Orient saw the U's push into mid-table, with the Dunne's men really impressing the travelling fans with their fluid style of football.
Colchester looked set for a fourth win in a row at Shrewsbury, going into a 2-0 lead against the struggling hosts, but a defensive collapse from corners saw Asa Hall score two identical goals late on to give the Shrews an unlikely point.
The world's oldest and most famous cup competition saw the U's paired with near neighbours, Chelmsford City. The U's travelled to Melbourne Park for the Essex Derby and were stunned by the incisive Clarets, as yet more dodgy defending and goalkeeping left the U's trailing 2-0 against their non-league opposition. Michael Rose's free kick gave the U's hope, but a late counter gave Chelmsford a deserved winner.
The game saw the end of Sanchez Watt, as a hamstring tear ended his loan spell with the club. The U's continued into the next fixture against Notts County and, despite playing well, suffered Dunne's first home loss as a result of balls being put into the box and the defence going AWOL. This was becoming a worrying trend for the U's faithful.
An away trip to Crewe saw the U's again go in at the break two goals to the good, but shoddy defending again cost the U's and the Railwaymen went further than Shrewsbury in the last outing, eventually winning the game 3-2.
The U's bucked the trend in the next fixture at home to Bury with Freddie Sears scoring a really well worked goal and an Anthony Wordsworth header earning Dunne's men a hard-fought victory over their fellow strugglers.
Colchester took on Coventry in the next fixture on a Tuesday night under the lights. The U's were enraged by referee Trevor Kettle's decision to rule out an opening goal for the home side after the linesman had missed a blatant offside. It was the right decision, but indicated the poor quality of the officials.
A well-worked goal from the Sky Blues saw them take the lead moments later, and another moment of controversy handed them a second in quick succession. The linesman had flagged for offside as the giant Edjenguele thumped a header into the net, before Trevor Kettle steamed into action to discuss the offside with his official on the sideline. Eventually, a goal was rightly given due to the rules of the game with the offside player deemed not to be interfering with play. A bizarre rule nonetheless, and the U's had suffered from it.
Tom Eastman's flicked headed got the U's back into the game, but they were caught short at the back as they pressed for an equaliser, with McGoldrick having all the time in the world to slot the ball past loanee goalkeeper, John Sullivan.
A terrible performance on the U's bogey ground, stadium:mk, saw the U's suffer a 5-1 thrashing in the next outing and this was followed up with a poor 2-0 defeat against lowly Oldham Athletic at home.
Colchester then travelled to Bournemouth, a traditional happy hunting ground for the Essex side, but a spirited performance saw Eddie Howe's men triumph 1-0 and condemn the U's to yet another defeat. That rut continued away to Walsall as my old Football Manager hero, Febian Brandy, took advantage of some sloppy U's play to give the Saddlers their first win in seventeen matches.
It was a huge warning sign that the U's were in trouble as they teetered in twentieth place in the league and showing no signs of winning a game any time soon.
The traditional Boxing Day fixture saw Brentford claim a double against the U's, and the west Londoner's showed plenty of Christmas spirit as they raced into an early two-goal lead, whilst loan signing Josh Thompson was given his marching orders.
The U's battled back well and Drey Wright showed his exceptional promise with a well-struck effort from the edge of the box to give the U's hope. Tom Adeyemi was later given his marching orders to level the playing field, but the U's could not find that vital equaliser and conceded a third late on to end 2012 with another defeat.
2013 opened with new hope and the promise of new signings; Thompson and signed permanently and Jack Compton followed him from Portsmouth, whilst George Porter also joined on loan from Burnley in time for the U's first fixture of the year against Crawley.
The Red Devils took the lead early on through appalling defending from the U's and later on, despite controlling the match, Mark Cousins and the woeful Brian Wilson made a complete hash of attempting to play football to double their advantage.
Wilson's heavy backpass put the 'keeper under pressure, but his feeble return to the full back was intercepted and left former U's loanee, Billy Clarke, to blast the ball into the net. A demoralised U's collapsed again to allow Nicky Adams to grab a third and leave Joe Dunne's side staring at the dreaded relegation spots.
Doncaster away saw the U's play with plenty of fight, but a common cliché in football about lacking the rub of the green cost the U's. Wordsworth gifted away possession of the ball in the closing stages to allow David Cotterill to completely bamboozle Brian Wilson and curl an effort into the corner of the net.
Scunthorpe United travelled to Colchester in a massive six-pointer game down at the bottom last Saturday. Should the Iron win they would overtake the U's, with the Essex side slipping into the last relegation place.
A drab affair saw the Iron take the lead through a long-range Jimmy Ryan strike which seemed to fly through the grasp of Cousins. A second goal then followed straight after half-time, as brilliant route one football completely dumbfounded the U's defence to allow Karl Hawley to score.
Freddie Sears' drilled effort brought the U's back into the game, but they were unable to find an equaliser and an unwanted club-record of nine straight defeats was written into the history books.
Joe Dunne admitted to considering his position in his post-match interview, but a part of me is glad that he is staying because further upheaval is not what is needed at the moment.
It's extremely saddening to see the U's in such disarray and in decline right now, but the Financial Fair Play rules have really scuppered our ability to sign players. We were spending an incredible 105% of our income on wages last season and, for this season, that had to be lowered to 65%.
It is little wonder that the U's find themselves in such bother because they do not have the budget to bring in new players. Joe Dunne has tried to rectify that by offering the U's highest earners the chance to leave the club in order for him to bring in fresh faces to play the style that he wants, but is struggling to dispatch them.
I do have a concern about this perceived style of play, because a lot of our players have not adjusted to this and I feel that the only way to get ourselves out of trouble is by playing to the players' strengths. I appreciate that Dunne wants to implement this nice passing game, but we need a lot of grit and determination alongside that and, at the moment, it is sadly lacking.
It is hard to predict where Colchester are going to finish but, at the moment, relegation looks the most likely bet. Our defence has been far too leaky, the goalkeeper has been a weakness and the lack of chances created and converted has been a problem all season.
Joe Dunne now needs to pull off a minor miracle to save the U's from League Two.
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