The Opposition View: Colchester United

Last updated : 18 August 2016 By Jim Bonner

How do you assess the start to Colchester's season so far and what are the expectations this season?

It's been a solid start with an away point and back-to-back home wins - I don't think we could have asked for much more at this point. The performance against Cambridge was particularly impressive for large spells of the game and could have justified a more convincing scoreline, whilst we raced into a 3-0 lead over Grimsby on Tuesday without having to get out of second gear. It will be difficult to judge those results until the table starts to take some genuine shape, of course, but the early signs are promising.

After almost two decades above the fourth tier, we'll be hoping we can be looking upwards and challenging at the right end of the table. It's seemed like a bit of a leap into the unknown and question marks will have been hanging over us as to whether we can shake off the losing mentality of recent years quickly or not.

However, if the two home performances in the past week are any reflection of the rest of the season then I would expect us to be pushing for a place in the top seven - but it is very early days.

Alex Wynter was dreadful during his time at Fratton Park. What do U's fans make of him?

We first took Alex on loan a couple of years ago before he joined Pompey, and he was very impressive. Despite his age, he had terrific composure, was very assured even when we were in the thick of a relegation battle and showed versatility as well when performing excellently at left back in a game at Stevenage. I don't think he lived up to those standards when he rejoined us in the January following his loan spell on the south coast, and found himself largely on the bench until the end of the season.

Last season he struggled with injury, but started to impress once again and looked like he could become a first choice centre half until he suffered a sickening head injury in the FA Cup tie with Tottenham which put him out for the rest of the season. It came at the wrong time for Alex as he had just gotten into some form. I don't think there would be any real concerns about putting him in again.

Michael Smith had a loan spell at Colchester a few years ago. How did you rate him?

I was living away at uni at the time of his spell and don't think I ever saw him play for us. From comments at the time, I think he showed some good promise in his all-round play as a target man but had an early black mark against his name for blasting a bit of a sitter over the bar on his debut. One of those where we would have probably been happy to keep him on, but similarly there was no real sleep lost over his return to Charlton.

Who are the key players in this current Colchester side?

So far this season, Brennan Dickenson has lit up the two home games down the left hand side with three goals, an assist, two man-of-the-match performances and some genuine trickery. His set-pieces have also looked dangerous and it appears he could be our match-winner this year.

We've been crying out for an experienced centre half for the past few seasons (illustrated most with the 99 goals conceded last year) and Luke Prosser looks like he will provide that. He's taken the captain's armband and been commanding at the back so far, vocal and hopefully the organiser we've needed. Has recent experience of promotion from this level, too.

In goal, Sam Walker missed all of last season with a knee injury which was a huge loss, and his return will be worth a few points this season. He should have saved Grimsby's second goal in midweek, but has already made a couple of excellent saves and I think his sheer size at the back gives confidence to the rest of the defence.

What are the biggest strengths and weaknesses of your team?

We've had some genuine pace on the break so far this season with Drey Wright and Dickenson down the wings, and Sammie Szmodics buzzing around centrally, whilst Szmodics and Tom Lapslie have also enabled us to close down quickly and press well. It's all had a bit of a youthful energy about it so far which has been refreshing.

Again, defensive frailties have been our downfall in recent years, but the addition of Prosser and return of Walker have made us look much more solid in the opening games this season - the two full backs have also appeared to be focusing a little more on their defensive duties this season which is presumably an instruction from new boss, John McGreal.

There is still a question mark over the mental strength that saw us capitulate so often last season - once the first goal went in, we'd often capitulate and be three down within the next five or ten minutes despite playing well up until that point. There were signs of this repeating itself in the cup game at Brighton last week when despite looking solid enough until the hour mark, we shipped three goals in a ten minute spell to end the contest. Last season this would have happened on Tuesday night when Grimsby pulled one back just after half-time but, to the team's credit, we still looked comfortable for the rest of the game.

Finally, although we've got off to a bright start with six goals so far, I'm still concerned that we'll struggle for goals a little this year. There isn't a standout goalscorer in the team who you would expect to get to double figures, and the one up top can seem isolated at times when we're under more pressure than we have been so far this season. There's also a worrying lack of depth on the wings behind Wright and Dickenson, so an injury to either of those will cause us problems.

What kind of match are we likely to see at Fratton Park on Saturday and would you take a draw if offered?

On paper, it's our toughest test to date. I'd guess the home crowd could become a little restless if we can start well, given the slow start to the season you've made so far, which could play into our hands. We will probably look to play on the break and, whereas we have been playing with a very attack-minded midfield, I wouldn't be surprised to see a change made centrally with the onus towards defensive solidity.

I would happily take a point, if nothing else to keep some momentum going. We've started well, a bit of a feel-good factor seems to be coming back and avoiding defeat this weekend will extend that for another week. Again, it's the toughest test so far and an away point isn't to be sniffed at.

Predict the outcome of the game.

I'm hoping we'll get something if we turn up as we have done, but am expecting you to kick-off your season really. I'll go 2-1 to Portsmouth with a killer late goal.