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Colchester United half-term report
The beginning of a new year marks the perfect opportunity for Colchester United to make a fresh start.
And having lost their final six games of the current year, the U’s will no doubt be glad to see the back of 2012.
Indeed, in the last calendar year, Colchester won just 11 of their league and cup matches.
Sadly, that record probably says much about why John Ward was dismissed in September.
But unfortunately, poor results over recent weeks have left Joe Dunne’s side glancing nervously over their shoulders at the League One relegation zone, as they head into 2013.
There was plenty of transfer activity at the Weston Homes Community Stadium in the summer, with Clinton Morrison, Marcus Bean and Freddie Sears among the new faces to arrive and Steven Gillespie and Kayode Odejayi among the high-profile departures.
Colchester supporters were cautiously optimistic after another top-ten finish had been achieved under Ward the previous season.
But perhaps the alarm bells should have been ringing before the league campaign had even got under way.
The U’s limp surrender at Yeovil Town to go out of the Capital One Cup at the first hurdle raised concerns but Colchester at least responded well to that setback by securing a creditable point at Preston North End, on the opening day of the league season.
That was followed by two further draws – against Portsmouth and Sheffield United – which represented a solid if unspectacular start for the U’s.
But a crushing 4-0 defeat at Tranmere Rovers was a big blow, as were the defeats against Brentford and Doncaster Rovers that immediately followed.
After the U’s were held at home by Crawley Town, defeat at lowly Scunthorpe United spelled the end of Ward’s reign as U’s manager and heralded the dawn of a new era, with club legend Dunne ushered in as his replacement and fellow Colchester favourite Mark Kinsella appointed as assistant manager.
Dunne wasted no time in stamping his own mark on the role, increasing the work-load in training, instructing his players to be brave and play out from the back and immediately drafting in young Arsenal duo Craig Eastmond and Sanchez Watt, along with experienced striker Jabo Ibehre from MK Dons.
It had the desired impact.
Dunne’s first game in charge resulted in a resounding 3-1 win over Hartlepool United, which was followed up by a notable triumph at Paolo Di Canio’s Swindon Town.
The new-look U’s were brought back down to earth with another defeat at Yeovil Town, followed by a disappointing Johnstone’s Paint Trophy exit at the hands of Aidy Boothroyd’s Northampton Town.
But things were still looking rosier, with three successive wins lifting Colchester up the table.
It looked as though they were on their way to a fourth when they were 2-0 up and seemingly cruising at Shrewsbury Town.
But they conceded twice to draw the game and although Dunne capped a superb month by being nominated for the manager of the month award for October, trouble was afoot.
November proved a nightmare month for Colchester, beginning with their humiliating FA Cup first-round exit at the hands of Essex rivals and non-league minnows Chelmsford City.
It was a blow from which many U’s fans feel their team are yet to recover.
Since that ill-fated day at Melbourne Park, they have won only once and have lost eight of the nine games that have followed.
It is a miserable run that includes six straight defeats, leaving them hovering above the relegation zone.
It is probably no coincidence that Colchester’s slump in form has coincided with the departure of Watt and Eastmond, for whom injury cut short their respective loan spells at the U’s prematurely.
They were both integral to the way in which Dunne wants his side to play and since their exit, Colchester have not looked the same side.
They have looked vulnerable at the back in recent weeks, conceding too many soft goals for the manager’s liking.
The U’s have also been goal-shy in attack, having found the net just three times in their last six matches.
That is why Dunne will use the transfer window that opened today as an opportunity to freshen things up, with one eye on the future.
The permanent signings of Portsmouth duo Jack Compton and Josh Thompson and the loan swoop for Burnley winger George Porter are already done and dusted, with Dunne keen to add striker Jabo Ibehre to his squad, too.
More changes are expected in the next few weeks, as the U’s boss looks to pull his side away from danger while still adhering to the club philosophy of playing that is so important to him.
The coming weeks are likely to be pivotal for Colchester, both on and off the pitch.
It seems their player recruitment in January is integral to their chances of pulling away from danger.
And how Colchester fare in their matches against the likes of fellow strugglers Hartlepool United, Scunthorpe United, Walsall and Portsmouth in the next few weeks will also be crucial in determining their fate.
For all of the latest Colchester United news, see the Daily Gazette.