Just how much relevance an EFL Trophy win against Southampton’s kids has upon our form in the weeks to come remains to be seen, however, this break from league action for cup competitions may well have come at a useful time for Mark Robins, allowing him to play around with the available squad away from the pressures of picking up points.
That isn’t to say that this upcoming FA Cup tie against Colchester United isn’t important, in fact, the funds that a potential run in the competition could generate could prove to be the difference between a decent season and one where we make the top six. However, with the squad stretched close to paper-thin, it feels more like a game we’ll have to get through than an opportunity to mount a cup run.
Maxime Biamou’s suspension couldn’t have come at a worse time given how short we are on strikers right now. The biggest area of intrigue heading into this game is just how Mark Robins overcomes the problem of not having a natural strike partner available for Amadou Bakayoko.
Presuming Robins sticks with the 5-3-2 shape that has been used over the past couple of games (and that Jordy Hiwula doesn’t make a sudden return to first-team action), Gervane Kastaneer looks to be the most natural option to take Biamou’s place in the side. The doubt with Kastaneer is whether Mark Robins trusts him enough to start even a relatively less important game as this one is. That may lead Robins into starting Callum O’Hare slightly further up the pitch, however, without a natural number 10 to take his spot in the side, such a move could leave us very short on attacking thrust from midfield.
It is a huge conundrum for Mark Robins to deal with, almost every possible option has its drawbacks. Starting with Kastaneer at least minimises the disruption to the rest of the team that other options would cause.
Elsewhere, Fankaty Dabo’s return to play right wing-back should at least add some attacking quality elsewhere in the side – even though Tennai Watson performed fairly well in Dabo’s absence last week. There are possible selection decisions to be made at left wing-back – where Sam McCallum continues to start over arguably a superior player in Brandon Mason – and at centre-back – where Kyle McFadzean continues to make sloppy errors and Declan Drysdale impressed on Tuesday night.
Last Time We Met
Our hopes of promotion back to League One at the first time of asking looked to be petering out after a miserable February evening in Colchester back in 2018. Without Michael Doyle in the midfield, the Sky Blues listleslly traipsed around in the first-half, allowing the U’s to build a head of steam early on, falling behind to a Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe penalty.
A better second-half performance resulted in Tom Bayliss drawing us level, following up the rebound from a Jordan Shipley shot. Just as it looked like we could push on and get the win, Colchester hit us with a sucker punch with two minutes remaining, making it our third defeat in a row at a crucial phase of the season.
Manager – John McGreal
With Colchester United a club that have made it their ambition over the past seven years to bring through and develop young talent in order to operate on a sustainable business model, John McGreal epitomises that ethos. Having been promoted to the job in 2016 having worked with the academy, McGreal has achieved middling-to-good results but has seemed mainly focused on developing and improving players, with the sale of star player, Sammie Szmodics, this summer to Bristol City arguably ranking as his biggest achievement.
Generally looking to play an attractive brand of football, Colchester United under McGreal have tended to be a side that can compete with the best in League Two but have struggled to find he consistency and mental fortitude to make that leap from the fringes of the play-offs to the promotion hunt. While they have knocked out Crystal Palace and Tottenham in the League Cup this season, their league form has remained frustratingly inconsistent, although they have won their past two games.
Who To Look Out For?
The watchword for this Colchester United side is pace. The U’s are packed with a number of speed merchants who can cause big problems when given space to run into. The current 4-2-3-1 system involves three interchangeable wingers in Courtney Senior, Kwame Poku and Callum Harriott who have the capability to dribble in tighter areas to create chances and are all individual match-winners on their day.
With former Sky Blue Frank Nouble leading the line no slouch himself, there is further pace in this team from full-backs Ryan Jackson and Cohen Bramall. Jackson, at right-back, boasts the extra weapon of a powerful long throw, while Bramall on the left was signed by Arsenal from non-league in 2017.
There is another ex-Sky Blue to keep an eye on in this game in the form of Ben Stevenson, who is the kind of central midfielder who can really control a game with his range of passing when he’s able to assert himself on proceedings.
At the back, Colchester have experience via Tom Eastman and Luke Prosser at centre-back and Dean Gerken in goal. The trio add an important level of steel to the youthful exuberance that the rest of the team play with.
Areas To Exploit
With so much pace in the side, the issue for Colchester has tended to be creating situations in which to exploit it. Teams tend to sit deep against them to deny them that space in behind and they have lacked the subtlety at times to play through determined opposition. As the higher-placed club heading into this game, Robins may want us to impose ourselves on Colchester, but that could end up playing into their hands.
Sitting back and looking to counter against Colchester also has the benefit of opening up gaps between their attacking full-backs and slow centre-backs. With both teams lacking the kind of finisher to get on the end of neat attacking play, proficiency on the counter-attack looks to be a key area of this game.