From the oldest recorded town in Britain, I present you Colchester United. Another season means another bunch of Roman Colchester-based clichés to deal with, based on fortresses, Boadicea and the age of the team’s boss.
Anyway, onto football matters. Last season the team managed a mildly respectable tenth place finish which, though many fans had a good old grumble about, wasn’t all that bad all things considered.
For a start, a tenth-place finish in a division as competitive as League One isn’t something to be ignored. It was also notable that this ranking places the 2010-11 season in the Top 5 finishes in the club’s history – with one of the ‘better’ finishing being the relegation-from-the-Championship debacle back in 2008.
Furthermore, the lack of spending given to John Ward, the manager, was notable compared to his predecessors in the hotseat. All three previous managers, Geraint Williams, Paul Lambert and Aidy Boothroyd were all provided with Robbie Cowling branded warchests to spend on players to ignite a return to the promised land that is the Championship. And the ‘promised land’ is has proven to be. Ward however was given a substantially reduced bag of money, but in fact returned a higher finish than any of those three had provided.
Rightly, therefore, Mr Ward has been given another crack of the whip for the 2011-12 season, despite many fans calling for a younger manager to be appointed. This is also the second season in which the club is sponsored by ROL Cruise for home and away fixtures. This means the trademark blue and white stripes can be seen in matches all over the country, even if some of the opposition believe it has an uncanny likeness with a certain supermarket cheap brand.
One issue outstanding for most Colchester fans as the new season lurches over the hill is: where are the goals coming from? Last season’s top scorer, Dave Mooney, did not sign after his loan spell ended, and with no one else signed this leaves only two senior strikers at the club.
One of these is the club’s record signing for £400,000 under Geraint Williams, Steven Gillespie. Whilst his goal-poaching abilities are not questioned, his injury history makes Ledley King look immortal. If fit, you’re looking at a goal every other game. Since his capture three seasons ago, however, we’ve not had the time to see the credentials that made his name under John Ward again at Cheltenham.
The other, Kayode Odejayi, blows very much hot and cold. On fire during his loan spell under Boothroyd, his permanent capture has coincided with a sudden lack of goals.
Although having no strikers may strangely have the reverse expected effect, like it did at Everton a couple of seasons back, most clubs will end up down the U-bend if such a situation arises. Many strikers have been linked, including old favourites (in more ways than one) Kevin Lisbie and Jamie Cureton, but all have snubbed Colchester. Is this because of a perceived lack of ambition at a club described by Aidy Boothroyd only two years ago as ‘progressive’?
This lack of firepower up front is all the more surprising given Ward’s playing career as a striker. It certainly wouldn’t go unnoticed by him that his old skills were missing from his own team!
If a striker isn’t to be found, then it is possibly the youth that needs to be turned to. Though the club has a number of promising youngsters, including strikers Craig Arnott and Freddie Ladapo, Ward seemingly has had a relunctance to play them in senior games. It was certainly a surprise that one or two were not tried out at the end of last season, as the play-off “dream” finally spluttered and died. And who can forget about Tom Bender, the seventeen year old who is playing in the Wales youth ranks and seems to be able to play well anywhere on the field? I would have thought the world was crying out for a left back who often plays as a centre forward.
It’s a nervous wait to the start of the season, and could be a nervous season in general if Captain Ward doesn’t steer the Good Ship Colchester to another striker soon. Maybe the 59-year old Ward might have to lace up his own boots again.
Written by Tom Smee, We Are Going Up’s Colchester United Blogger