Here we are then. The final game of the season is upon us. It has been a rollercoaster ride with far more downs than ups, but that is the nature of football. We can’t always have it our own way. It’s a given that the past eight months have been a failure – you’d struggle to find anybody who’d argue otherwise. An improved run of form in recent weeks has given us a reason to be optimistic, though. You have to take the rough with the smooth and look forward, regroup and strive towards better things. That is what we must now do; draw a line underneath it and start again.
As United look to end the season on a high, their opposition, Joe Dunne’s Colchester, are looking to fend off the threat of relegation. It has been a bumpy ride for them, too. Their task couldn’t be any simpler. Win or draw and the result of fellow strugglers Scunthorpe’s game against Swindon will be completely irrelevant. A defeat, though, and things start to get a little more complicated, as shown below:
GF GA GD Pts
19. Oldham 45 58 -13 50
20. Colchester 45 68 -23 48
21. Scunthorpe 46 72 -26 45
Their superior goal difference means that should they lose 1-0 and, equally, Scunthorpe win by the same margin, they will still be safe. However, a defeat at Brunton Park by two goals or more and a victory of any kind for the Iron would, again, complicate things further. In fact, a 4-2 win for United and a 1-0 victory for Scunthorpe would leave them on the same number of points, with the same goal difference, same number of goals scored and the same number of goals conceded. This would mean that the games between the two sides this season would be the deciding factor – Scunthorpe have won both, meaning that they would remain in the division for another season. Anyway, that’s enough maths for now.
All these complicated scenarios and dependence on the result at Glanford Park will be avoided if they do the job required of them. Eight-goal top scorer Jabo Ibehre said this week that the U’s will “rip Carlisle’s heads off” on Saturday as the season comes to a close. Three points for the home United would do much to lift the collective spirits heading into a busy summer of comings and goings at Brunton Park, something which Greg Abbott will be desperate to do as he looks ahead to next season.
United Team News
With contracts running out and futures still up in the air, it could the last time many of United’s stars pull on a blue shirt. No fewer than twelve players could leave in the coming weeks, meaning that they will be keen to end the season with a bang. The Scottish trio of Rory Loy, Lee Miller and Jon-Paul McGovern, along with Matty Robson, Paul Thirlwell and Danny Livesey are all likely to feature, with Mathieu Manset, Andy Welsh and Wigan loanee Jordan Mustoe also unsure where they’ll be playing football next season.
Predicted United XI
Potts / Livesey / O’Hanlon / Mustoe
Noble / Thirlwell / Berrett
McGovern / Miller / Robson
Fellow CUFC fan, albeit of the Essex variety, Dave Burch spoke to me on Tuesday ahead of his side’s big game. Onwards we go…
JP: Even though you are in a relatively strong position with a superior goal difference, going into the last game of the season with the threat of relegation hanging over you is far from ideal. Why do you think you have struggled this year?
DB: It is a difficult one to answer as looking back on the season there have been a number of issues. Colchester fans didn’t realise just how much we were going to miss Ben Williams, who we signed from Carlisle coincidently. He was a massive influence to our back line. Mark Cousins, a local lad who has come through the ranks became the number one. It soon became clear that he was a weak link and also Magnus Okuonghae, our hugely influential centre back, had an absolute nightmare start of the season. We didn’t win in eight games at the start of the season and a hugely controversial penalty cost us the game at Scunthorpe away, and saw Ward sacked. Joe Dunne has tried to pick up the pieces and started well, but a run of nine straight defeats crippled us. We only have ourselves to blame from throwing away games in winning positions and atrocious form both at home and away.
JP: Joe Dunne has been in charge since John Ward was dismissed back in September. Is he to blame for the way things have panned out?
DB: John Ward has a lot to answer for. The squad was full of egos and players who were happy to just seemingly pick up their payslips. Ward did a lot of decent work in terms of stabilising the club, but he is a footballing dinosaur and just did not seem to instil pride or passion into the team.
Dunne got off to a great start winning his first couple of games. A draw against Shrewsbury away started a rot of the hideous losing streak. A loss away in the FA Cup in the original Essex derby v lowly Chelmsford City really just slapped us. We lost loanee Sanchez Watt to injury and it just turned horrendously bad after that. We looked doomed for a while and another loss to Scunny saw Dunne offer his resignation.
Dunne is a huge fans favourite having devoted most of his playing and ten years of his coaching career to the U’s. He turned it round well, but we have not picked up points when we should.
JP: I remember quite a few of your fans being optimistic about this season back in August after you’d brought in the likes of Freddie Sears and Clinton Morrison. How much flak do you think the players need to take for your league standing?
DB: We have had problems all over the park. Cousins in goal cost us a few goals and our marking at set pieces was pathetic and saw us concede so many goals. The team just seemed to roll over. The midfield stopped working and it was just killing us. Since Wordsworth and Henderson left the club, it seems a much happier place. They were two big egos and they seemed to drag some others down. The trouble with Morrison is that he has had to play as a lone front man most of the season and that is just not his game, which is frustrating. Sears is hit and miss, but we have found a position for him where he should be thriving and hopefully he will be a big player this weekend.
JP: If you were to stay in League One, which areas do you feel need addressing the most? What would you like to see happen over the summer?
DB: The midfield is full of plodders and is completely bereft of any sort of style, guile or quality – just a few grafters. It sounds harsh but it’s true, this area definitely needs someone to control the game and get their foot on the ball. We had Martin Rowlands who scored against Carlisle at the WHCS last season, but Ward released him and it was a huge error.
I reckon we will see a couple of wingers come in as we are looking to play with speed on the flanks, but most of the business will be loans. Hopefully we can retain some of the loanees we have had this season. Sam Walker has come in from Chelsea on loan and has been a real revelation in goal. His performances in the draw at Hartlepool and win at Bury were key to us being able to survive still. We are not a bad side, we just have not had great luck and have shot ourselves in the foot too many times with calamitous defensive capitulations [JP – sounds familiar].
JP: In the reverse fixture earlier on in the campaign it was Sanchez Watt who caused us all sorts of problems and despite there being plenty of chances for both sides, it was a pretty routine victory for you in the end. Who should we watch out for this time?
DB: Sanchez Watt, Craig Eastmond and Ibehre came to the club at the same time and hit the ground running. Watt was hugely influential for us and we’d not be in the same position now if we had him for the duration of his loan. Unfortunately he had a season ending injury in the humiliation at Chelmsford.
We like to break with pace and wingers Gavin Massey and George Porter will probably start on the flanks. They are both quick, but Porter is the one who will produce more with the ball. He is a skilful player with half decent delivery. In midfield there is not one to write home about. Freddie Sears will be a danger man if he turns up. He was dreadful against Shrewsbury, but sometimes he shows just why he was one of the hottest prospects in the country when he burst onto the scene as an 18 year old at West Ham. Jabo Ibehre is a mountain of a man up front, but is not the best when it comes to finishing chances. His hold up play is fantastic.
JP: Are you confident that your players will be good enough to get a result up at Brunton Park?What will Joe Dunne’s message to them be?
DB:Do not lose by more than one! A draw is good enough and to be perfectly honest we seem to play better away from home. But we have not had much luck this season. After Saturday’s dire draw, we will hopefully see the team more fired up. It is a really important game and hopefully the team can show its mettle and what it is capable of. It is in our own hands still, so we have to produce the best of our ability.
JP: Lastly, to end the season with, what is the final score going to be?
DB: I am praying for a score draw to keep us safe and to see a goal, around 500 travelling die hards will make the trip with many deciding they had to be there after Saturday’s borefest. It is a hugely important game for us, but we have not been too clever at Brunton Park in recent seasons. Ward always seemed to make the team play really uselessly against you, but saying that we only lost 1-0 last season. I have a horrible feeling it will be 1-0 to you. I do not want to contemplate relegation, but with Scunny at home and Swindon having nothing to play for, I can see the worst scenario of them winning by two and you beating us 1-0 to send us down.
Whatever happens there are quite a few of us staying down for the weekend and hopefully celebrating last day survival. If you want to give us a Jimmy Glass-esque moment in the dying seconds to keep us safe I’d be appreciative!
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