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EFL Team in Focus: Colchester Finding Form

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It has been a wonderful week for Colchester United.

Back-to-back league wins over 2018-19 Play-Off sides Newport and Mansfield sandwiched an EFL Cup victory at Crawley, which saw them reach the Quarter-Finals of that competition for the first time in 45 years.

Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) analyses the U’s momentum.

Gerken Avoid Pickles

Colchester’s defending in the 3-2 win at Mansfield was rather average. Luckily for them, they were bailed out at the rear-end by a fine goalkeeping performance from Dean Gerken, who is into his seventh season with the club after arriving in the summer. Gerken’s experience and knowledge of the club could make him an invaluable dressing room influence.

Jackson Thrills

Ryan Jackson has been among the most underrated right-backs below the Championship over the last five years. The former Newport man possesses plenty of athleticism, which aids his direct forward forays, as well as an aptitude for producing telling long throws into the opposing penalty area.

Experienced Defence

Luke Prosser and Tom Eastman might not quite have been at their best at Mansfield last time out. Eastman, though, has strong leadership qualities, he is a good basic defender yet can also ping the odd pass to the flanks. Prosser, meanwhile, is more old-school than Eastman but he has won promotion from this level with Southend in 2014-15.

Bramall Staying Fit

Had Cohen Bramall stayed injury free at the start of his career, he would probably be playing in the top two divisions now, at 23. Instead, the Arsenal academy graduate has spent large periods on the sidelines and has thus been content to drop down to Colchester, partly because of the club’s reputation for development. Like Jackson, Bramall loves to get forward, he is very quick and has a powerful shot on him, so Colchester often have both full-backs beyond the halfway line.

Midfield Power

For periods last season, injuries to Brandon Comley, Tom Lapslie and Harry Pell left Colchester short of physicality. McGreal therefore had to either pair technician Ben Stevenson with the dainty Diaz Wright, risking a lightweight combination, or shift target man by trade Mikael Mandron into that role to offer temporary physicality, with neither solution being ideally. This year, McGreal has Comley fully fit, having scored a belter last time out, he led the press brilliantly, too. Lapslie is also back while even Pell got vital minutes with a late cameo appearance.

Poku Fun

Kwame Poku has been an instant hit since coming through the impressive academy setup. What stood out, most, in the victory at Mansfield was the 18-year-old’s effervescent energy and canny movement between the lines, as well as an eye for a through ball. Callum Harriott, who has scored a hat-trick at Championship level previously in his career for Charlton, produces plenty of tricks and flicks from the left-wing.

Courtney Courted

Courtney Senior is a delightful talent. He can go on long, winding runs in from the right channel, dance past defenders with his delicate feet to either buy a set piece or penalty or highlight his excellent end product. Senior showed wonderful movement to score with a left-footed effort at Mansfield and the 22-year-old will attract interest from the Championship; Colchester will hope to retain him at least until the end of the current campaign.

Variety of Goals

Colchester’s attacking output has improved of late with nine goals in their last three games. Pleasingly, not only are they scoring lots of different types of goal, but they also have 12 different goalscorers in all competitions this season, which keeps opponents guessing. They are not overly reliant on one striker, which was a huge problem last season after Luke Norris’ injury and loss of form derailed his campaign.

Need a Centre-Forward

Nouble works very hard and has a lot of power about him; oddly, he still finds it difficult to generate power in his shots, which might suggest he may not be a centre-forward that the U’s can rely on every week. This could be an area for chairman Robbie Cowling to look at strengthening in January, depending on Norris’ fitness.

Credit Cowling

Cowling has taken a lot of criticism from Colchester fans disillusioned by the club’s malaise over recent seasons, due to a perceived lack of investment and too much focus on youth development. The balance of the squad, in terms of youth and experience, looks more than adequate this season, though and the fact Cowling is taking care of the club’s long-term health is arguably a positive thing in English football’s current financial climate. Cowling’s ownership regime may be looked upon more positively in five years’ time than it is now – and if he gets criticism when things at the club go badly, he surely deserves praise when results go well.

Faith in McGreal

Despite question marks over the level of investment, fans have also been undecided on McGreal, who has had three opportunities to get the club into the top seven since taking over post-relegation in 2016 and each year, he has not been able to deliver on that target. This year though, could be different, with Colchester showing the mentality to come back from unfavourable positions. Last season, his team rarely had the correct response when they fell behind or let in an equalizer, yet performances against Stevenage, Newport and Mansfield show there is stronger belief within the group.