A return to league action feels timely after what has been a weird old week at Coventry City. First, we get knocked out of the cup. Adam Armstrong gets linked with a move to Wolves in January. Then, a new CEO arrives sounding somewhat non-committal about staying at the Ricoh Arena. Reports emerge that a move to possibly 12,000 seat capacity Butts Park Arena gather momentum. And to cap it all off, Dominic Samuel moves on loan to another League One club.
It would be easy to surmise from the above paragraph that things aren’t quite right at this football club, that we remain one of the sick men of the Football League, yet we head into this meeting with Colchester knowing a win could send us top of the division. What impact this sudden off-the-field chatter has on the team remains unknown at this point, but it’s actually hard for me to see this impacting this current team.
A win this weekend would be very timely though, dissipating a new creeping wave of pessimism fairly early on. Although last week’s FA Cup exit has to be taken in isolation given the combination of the players we were without and the occasion it was for our opponents, I don’t think we can totally dismiss it as an omen before we’ve had another look at the tentative current state of this side. With Adam Armstrong still missing and Colchester boasting a vibrant-looking attack against our sea-legged defence, this game could turn out pretty nasty for us if we’re not careful.
The return of Romain Vincelot is a massive boost for us both in attack and defence. The protection he offers the defence adds a sense of calm to the backline whilst also providing the platform for our forward-thinking players to do their stuff. Not only that, but his warrior-like mentality gives this side that added edge of charisma that is the difference between bad afternoons turning out okay and okay afternoons turning out good.
Reice Charles-Cook returns to the team, having extended his contract. Although I think a lot of the attributes he has been imbued with by the fans are the result of being not-Lee Burge, perhaps that patience and trust he has been handed early on in his career will actually make a tangible difference, even if there isn’t a world of difference between our two keepers.
Can Tony Mowbray continue to select Marc-Antoine Fortuné after his recent performances? The forward may be harshly criticised in that his game is simply to bring others into the game, which he cannot do if there aren’t players buzzing all around him. He has a role to play at this football club still as a specialist hold-up man, but the more mobile Marcus Tudgay might be a slightly better player in the role for this Armstrong-less game.
Last Time We Met
Colchester United suffered the ignominy last season of losing twice to the team that we were last season, something about stopped clocks feels relevant here. The first time round, the U’s fell victim to that brief period of time that we all believed Gary Madine would save our season. Madine scored the one goal in a narrow and tedious victory last November.
The last meeting between these two teams saw the Sky Blues secure an important win at the Ricoh Arena which went a long way to securing survival. Jim O’Brien tucked away Chris Stokes‘ cut-ten minutes before half-time and a Coventry City side buoyed by the returns of Reda Johnson and James Maddison held on fairly comfortably for all three points.
How Are They Doing?
Despite heading into that last game against us in good form, that defeat nearly spent Colchester spiralling into League Two. They somehow managed to secure survival on the final day by beating Preston who themselves needed a win to seal promotion. That survival bid was built on a series of key loan signings (including Jacob Murphy) and after they all left in the summer, it looked like Colchester would be set for another season of struggle.
Things have improved this season, although the U’s are only slightly less inconsistent as they were last time out. Two summer signings in particular have been key in helping Tony Humes turn Colchester into a more dangerous team than they used to be. Striker Marvin Sordell is a lickity-quick striker who probably should still be playing at Championship level although he can be more than a little erratic in his finishing. Winger Callum Harriott is an even quicker forward player who absolutely loves a shot and has been sending a trail of League One full-backs in his wake, Delorean style, thus far.
In addition to Harriott and Sordell, Darren Ambrose and Owen Garvan have added experience to what has often been a dangerously inexperienced Colchester team over the years. Garvan has shone in particular, a somewhat languid player who has struggled at times to impose himself despite his talent, he’s really showing what he can offer at a lower level for Colchester. Ambrose has had perhaps a more frustrating career but again, the drop to a lower level seems to have done the trick. Both though are potential injury doubts for this game.
The other key player in this Colchester team is George Moncur in central midfield. A box-to-box midfielder who is currently the team’s top-scorer, he has frustrated U’s fans at times by floating in and out of games. If our defence can just about contain Colchester’s forward players, having Moncur running in from midfield just adds to their searing threat.
Defensively is where Colchester have been struggling this season, they currently have the most goals against in the division by some distance. They do have ex-Sky Blues loanee Jamie Jones in goal, although he has continued to be a completely ordinary presence in goal he has saved a few penalties for them, providing an extra reason to not get too excited should we get one.
This game feels like a little venture into the unknown, it’s hard to know just how exactly this team will react to the events of the past week. On the face of it, a dissolving defence and a weakened attack against a free-flowing attacking team spells danger for us. Yet, we’ve always had this resilience under Tony Mowbray, the ability to regroup very quickly after set-backs, tweak a few things and came back again looking stronger. It’s hard to rule out us pulling off an unexpectedly defensively-secure performance and hitting Colchester hard on the counter.
That’s the difference that having an experienced manager in charge makes, whereas before you could see us falling to pieces at the first hint of the bubble bursting, this team is made of sterner stuff. You wonder sometimes whether Tony Mowbray’s managerial nous is going to drag us kicking-and-screaming out of this division, despite ourselves.
I’m not going to go all-out and predict another managerial masterclass, that’s far too optimistic for me. I am going to predict a 1-1 draw, which would still be welcome in my book.