Two away defeats may not feel like ideal preparation going into a “should-win” home game, but the encouragement players and fans alike could take from the spirit and the long spells of control and quality in the matches at Swindon and Southampton bodes well in terms of driving us towards that elusive first league win.
The possession and chances created at Southampton in particular should give everyone the confidence that we’ll soon be taking great strides up the table, but there remains a concern – one which I’m certain Sean O’Driscoll will bring up in his pre-match press conferences – that the pressure of performing in front of an expectant and increasingly (largely understandably) impatient home crowd will prove to be this young team’s undoing yet again. It will only take a couple of misplaced passes, or a rush of blood to the head of a defender for anxiety to sweep around Ashton Gate in a manner that simply can’t have been replicated with a smaller, less dominant away following.
We’re used to this, of course. This is the third year out of four that we’ve had to wait until two months into our season for a first win of any sort, and the other two years ended in (ultimately successful) relegation battles, hence the increased feeling of doom & gloom. But we should equally remember that each of the two home matches that has broken that run previously has come about with the help of a large motivated support, treating the match almost as a ‘must-win’ cup-tie, such were their apparent importance.
There is a big danger we fall into the same trap as we did against Shrewsbury and talk about “only Colchester”, which leads to a certain apathy amongst fans, which translates onto the pitch and the vicious circle is ever more. This was never the case in the Championship, but we need to remember we have no ‘right’ to win any game at any level, and we no doubt took advantage of many established Championship teams saying “it’s only Bristol City” in that eventful first season back in the second tier.
Time for the rallying call – let’s get right behind the team this Saturday, from the start and keep it going, whatever happens during the match. We can help the players out of this, so why wouldn’t we at least try? I’m convinced once we get one or two wins under our belt, this division and the future is our oyster so make some noise, keep encouraging and create that special cup-tie atmosphere – no-one will talk about this being “must-win”, but from a confidence, support and perception perspective, another home match without a maximum return could have longer-lasting damaging effects.
This feature is of course supposed to be about Saturday’s opponents, so I’ll move swiftly on to the questions posed by Stu Radnedge to Matt Hudson, who is Media Manager at Colchester United.
Two wins in two at the beginning of the season was a great way to kick off the 2013/14 campaign - can you enlighten us City fans as how it felt to win a league encounter this season? What was the atmosphere around the club like for the U's then, compared with now?
"I think from the early games in League One this season, it is a question of fine margins. A lot of teams will be very competitive in the division and it is a question of those moments within games and which side can take them on the day. The U’s have enjoyed a summer of positivity after beating the battle to stay up last season and it was important that we started on the front foot this year. The two wins have given us a good platform to work from and there’s plenty of promise ahead. Even though we await that third win, there has been plenty of encouragement in the performances – even in the defeat to Orient – to suggest the team will do well this year."
Since that win you’ve had six games - four draws and two losses including a draw on Saturday against Crawley? Was that result a bitter pill to swallow after going one up and getting pegged back?
"There were probably some mixed feelings amongst the fans not to have won the game. Having been in front, and having hit the crossbar moments before Crawley’s equaliser, some would have hoped to have seen out the game. The flip side is that the team has had issues with injuries in the past few weeks and Saturday’s game had three players making their home debuts from the start and a fourth making his first league appearance from the bench, so keeping the points tally ticking over whilst these players settle into the side is an important factor.
Those injuries have certainly played their part – we had a very young side out in the defeat to Coventry – but a top half position at this stage despite those injury problems is pleasing."
The gaffer (Joe Dunne) has been steering the ship for around a year now after making the step up from twice being caretaker to take control of the club last season, following John Ward’s sacking (whatever happened to him!). Has the transition been steady or is Colchester finishing 20th last season indicative of the task at hand in his first full season in charge?
"Joe has been there and done it with the club – from a player to youth team boss and eventually first team manager. His appointment was well received by the U’s supporters who appreciated his committed style as a player and his honesty as a manager. He is implementing a style of football that is pleasing on the eye and fans know that things are moving in the right direction under his tenure. He has largely reshaped the squad in his year in charge (the Sunday after the game at Ashton Gate will be his first anniversary) and there are strong hopes that this season will see the U’s well away from trouble and looking upwards rather than what’s below them in the table."
Only eight games in it's too early to make a call of how the season will end. But would you say these games have been on par or below expectation in terms of the performance of the team?
"It has been a solid start to the season – it took the U’s eight games to get their first win last season, so the start we have had this time around gives us a platform to build from. The team in some of the games has been a young one – the team that started v Bradford had seven players 22 or under – so it’s a side that will grow with the experience it gains this season. Twelfth is about right so far, but the team and manager will strive to go higher as the season takes shape."
What do you expect to have to do on Saturday when you visit Ashton Gate to give you the best chance of taking something from the game?
"As mentioned earlier, the difference between the top sides and those at the other end of the table comes down to the smallest of margins, so the first goal will be a key one. Away from home, quietening the home crowd is always one of the first challenges, so a good first twenty minutes will play its part."
Which player(s) should City fans be worried about?
"Much will depend on the injury situation, but of the players available for selection from the Crawley game, Freddie Sears returned from injury to score on and looks in good form. Craig Eastmond pulls the strings in midfield and is settling into life at Col U after his summer move."
And finally, can I get a score prediction please?
"If we can continue to build on the last couple of games, I’ll go for a narrow victory for the U’s."
Many thanks to Matt and Stu for their time and contribution.
One day soon we’ll win a (league) game, I don’t know where, I don’t know when, but I know we’ll win a game…and very soon. Apologies for the lapse into paraphrasing a famous victory song, but something’s got to get us that win, and I’m running out of other ideas!
Remember, let's properly get behind the boys – COYR!