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Colchester United - review of the season
Colchester United supporters have experienced their fair share of ups and downs this season.
Had the U’s continued their blistering opening day form throughout the whole of the campaign, they may well have been planning for life in a higher division right now.
But football rarely works like that and as it was, their thumping 4-2 win at Preston North End back in early August sadly proved to be something of a false dawn.
In stark contrast to that win at Deepdale, Colchester’s season finished with a heavy defeat at Notts County, perhaps illustrating how consistency has eluded them over the last nine months or so.
Such a fluctuation in performance certainly prevented John Ward’s side from finishing higher than their final position of tenth place, something that had looked possible for fleeting moments.
Nevertheless, a third successive top-ten finish in the third tier for the club the U’s size should not be sniffed at, especially given the fact that two of the clubs that finished immediately above them last season – Rochdale and Exeter City – are both now planning for life in a lower division.
Indeed, there were some real highs for Colchester, who hit the net four times in six different league and cup matches in the campaign.
Perhaps their finest hour was becoming the first team to beat champions Charlton Athletic on their own turf following a splendid 2-0 win at the Valley, in March.
And their performances against the likes of Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United and Huddersfield Town in the latter weeks of the season were also pleasing.
Although all of those home games finished in score draws, the U’s form at the Weston Homes Community Stadium was once again impressive, after suffering only four defeats in front of their own fans.
And while they were beaten nine times on their travels, that was still an improvement on the 12 defeats they suffered on the road, last season.
There were also some excellent individual contributions, too.
The fact that Anthony Wordsworth finished as the U’s leading goalscorer with 13 goals was testament to the impressive way he adapted to playing in a more central midfield role.
It was a responsibility he relished and helped him to mature considerably as a footballer, throughout the course of the season.
Another promising young player, Tom Eastman, also came on leaps and bounds as the season progressed and established himself as a regular at the heart of the Colchester defence.
And the consistency of the likes of Ben Williams, skipper Kem Izzet and John White was also a positive for boss Ward.
On the downside, the two heavy home defeats Colchester suffered at the hands of Stevenage and MK Dons provoked considerable unrest among the U’s faithful, as did the limp FA Cup exit at the hands of League Two outfit Swindon Town.
Indeed, attendances were down at the Community Stadium although the club continued to make strides in terms of offering a better matchday experience at the venue, with much of the feedback from supporters positive.
On the pitch, a club record 20 draws in League One left U’s fans frustrated and prompted further calls for a prolific striker to polish off some of their impressive approach play, although Steven Gillespie did finish with 12 goals to his name after an improved second half of the campaign.
Gillespie still has another year remaining on his current contract unlike many of his team-mates, who will see their present deals expire this summer.
The vast majority of those players have been offered new terms and boss Ward is now playing a waiting game to see how many of them put pen to paper.
The U’s boss has warned he will not wait forever for their answers.
He has already told midfielder Martin Rowlands that he will not be offered the chance to stay, after admitting concerns over his recent injuries.
That is a shame, given the impact that the former Queens Park Rangers veteran made in his short time at the U’s.
But the budget cuts at Colchester have been well documented and it seems clear that what happens in the coming weeks will play a big part in how they fare in League One, next season.
Nevertheless, there is no reason to suggest that the majority of the out-of-contract players will follow striker Kayode Odejayi out of the exit door at the Community Stadium, especially with a brand new training ground on the way in July.
And with season-ticket prices frozen once again, Colchester loyal fans can seemingly brace themselves for another rollercoaster ride, next season.