Stu Radnedge caught up with their Media Manager Matty Hudson for this take on the Essex side's prospects.
With League One safety assured, there was plenty of hope when the 2013/14 season kicked off. Further good work in the transfer market saw the U’s in good shape, but a horrendous injury crisis in the early months and a good run of form stopped by the incessant rain of late 2013 and early 2014 meant that the U’s were never truly able to get up the head of steam that their football often threatened.
That said, an improved finish of 16th and the further development of home grown talent again offers optimism for the new season. The 2013/14 season saw the club’s academy products play just short of 100 games for the first team and several are expected to be mainstays of the first team picture in 2014/15.
The club’s U18s swept to a league and national cup double last season and those young players will be looking to follow in the footsteps of Alex Gilbey, Drey Wright, Macauley Bonne and Sammie Szmodics who established themselves in the first team last time out.
Gilbey in particular will be instrumental to the club’s success this year. Still aged only 19, he provides a real drive and thrust through the midfield and will be hoping to add to his first senior goal against Wolves last season. His bursting runs into the box give the U’s an additional attacking thread that gives opposition teams something extra to think about.
Indeed, having inherited a side that was perhaps a little shy on pace and attacking threat, Dunne has now given himself a range of options from which to create his front four – with the U’s typically favouring a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-2-1 formation.
There are players with genuine cutting edge within the attacking ranks and, dependent on injury and form, he at least now has choice, which in itself creates competitions for places amongst those players.
Dan Holman will be one to keep an eye on this season after his step up from non-league football, whilst Freddie Sears has come into the season in fine form with eight goals in pre-season.
At the other end, two new full backs means a new look back four, but the triumvirate of Sam Walker in goal, along with new captain Magnus Okuonghae and Tom Eastman at centre half will be crucial to the U’s successes in the coming months.
Expect some free flowing football from the U’s and, upon visiting a venue like Ashton Gate, a genuine willingness to burst on the counter attack to switch play at pace.
Both pre-season and the early weeks of the new season have shown goals will not be in short supply so entertainment is likely!