PREVIEW: Colchester look to keep play-off dreams alive against Mansfield

Colchester's manager John McGreal
Colchester's manager John McGreal

Play-off chasing Colchester United visit the One Call Stadium on Saturday for their first competitive fixture in two weeks.

The U’s trip to Morecambe last weekend fell victim to the Beast from the East and with no midweek game John McGreal’s men will be hungry for a return to action.

Colchester, who sat seven points adrift of the top seven before Tuesday night’s games, have fallen away of late after consecutive losses, at Crewe and home to rock bottom Barnet.

They will be looking to snap that winless run, which came against two teams fighting for survival towards the bottom, as it threatens to derail their hopes of making the play-offs.

Leading scorer Sammie Szmodics, who has 12 for the season so far, was expected to be in contention for the scheduled Morecambe game having been sidelined with a back problem in recent weeks.

While focus is on their current fortunes, the Colchester Gazette reports that no fewer than 16 contracted players with first team experience will see their deals expire this summer.

What division the U’s are likely to be in next season is said to be a factor and with so much riding on the last couple of months of the season it may yet come into the players’ thinking, either as added motivation or a distraction.

Four of those players have been offered new terms, including last season’s player of the year Brennan Dickenson, but club captain Luke Prosser and several others’ futures remain in doubt.

Another one of those out of contract is attacker Courtney Senior who has caught the eye since the turn of the year and is said to be attracting interest from elsewhere. He has two goals to his name from eight games in 2018.

While ever-present goalkeeper Sam Walker has been a steady performer between the sticks all season long, as the U’s have let in fewer goals than third placed Wycombe and Swindon in seventh at an average of 1.17 goals conceded per game.

It is at the other end of the pitch where they have struggled, scoring on average 1.28 goals per game, a statistic which doesn’t come close to threatening the top seven.

Mansfield, in comparison, had conceded on average 1.03 goals per game and scored an average of 1.56 prior to Tuesday night’s match with Lincoln City and David Flitcroft will be keen for those numbers to add up in Stags’ favour on Saturday.

His new chargers are very much full of confidence following their surge in to the play-off picture under Steve Evans, who left the club last week to take up the Peterborough United hot seat.

Flitcroft, Evans’ successor, had to wait to take charge of his first Mansfield fixture, with Saturday’s scheduled away game at Stevenage also postponed due to a frozen pitch.