THE WREXHAM ANGLE
The late postponement of last Saturday's match at Forest Green was frustrating, but every raincloud has a silver lining. An extra week's recuperation for injured players and a series of results which went Wrexham's way as we made our way back from a soggy corner of Gloucestershire meant that despite not playing, it felt like we'd had a good weekend.
The top of the table is remarkably congested, and Wrexham will want to take advantage of 4 of the next 6 matches being at home. Standing in second place, 6 points behind leaders Stockport County with a game in hand, we lead a procession of 5 teams who are separated by a mere point.
Essentially, every fit professional got a start in the week before the postponed Forest Green game. either starting against Yeovil Town or Burton Albion. An extra week's rest looks to have set the squad up nicely for the busy Christmas schedule.
THE OPPOSING VIEW
Colchester have endured a tough time over the last 18 months. They finished last season in 20th place and things haven't got better since: they stand one place above the relegation zone.
They've been through three managers in 2023: Ben Garner replaced Matt Bloomfield in March, but was removed 8 months later after a run of 4 consecutive league defeats. Garner was supported in the Summer transfer window but injuries hampered the start of the season. His youthful side showed glimpses of promise, and pulled off fine wins over Gillingham and Notts County, both of whom were top of the table at the time.
The writing was on the wall after a 5-0 loss at Forest Green, though, and in the aftermath of that defeat he spoke frankly to BBC Essex:
"There's a losing culture at the club, and there has been for a long, long time now. We keep changing players, changing head coaches and we've got to try and turn that round.
"That's been a lot harder than I expected it to be, but I still want to do it, I'm still going to put the work in and I still believe we can turn this season around."
A week later he was relieved of his duties, and that task of turning things around has been passed to Matthew Etherington, who stepped up from the role of Under-21 coach, initially on an interim basis.
He enjoyed a fine 3-2 win at Grimsby in his first game in charge, but immediately hit a bump in the road when Crawley Town raised an objection. He'd been their manager for a bizarre 32-day period at the end of 2022, and they claimed he was still under contract to them, blocking his return to management. Colchester eventually settled the issue and offered Etherington the role on a permanent basis, but he told BBC Essex that it wasn't a straightforward decision:
"I needed to think about taking the job, some people might not believe that, but that's just me being honest. It was definitely a temporary basis when Ben left. We had a conversation at the start of this week and with the way things have gone I was delighted to take it.
"I'm a realist, I know what football is all about, I've been in the game since I was 15 years old. There'll be bumps in the road ahead but I'm sure there'll be plenty of positives as well. There are the ingredients here for this club to be successful. That's genuinely how I feel in my gut."
Between Garner's departure and Etherington's permanent appointment United enjoyed their best run of the season, winning 3 out of 5 games. The sole loss in that time was a gutsy performance in the FA Cup at Shrewsbury. Colchester took a 10th minute lead but ended up on the wrong side of the 3-2 scoreline.
Defeat in his first game as permanent boss at Stockport wasn't huge suprise, but Etherington has only enjoyed one win in 6 games, and that came in the Bristol Street Motors Trophy.
Last Saturday Etherington came face-to-face with his erstwhile employers, Crawley, and suffered a 2-1 defeat with United's goal coming in added time. The Colchester supporters were far from happy as they watched their side slump to a fourth consecutive league defeat, and Etherington told the Daily Gazette that he was keen to be allowed more time to turn things around:
“I understand the fans’ frustrations but I’ve had 11 games bear in mind; I’ve not been in this role for 11 months.
“I had Tom Dallison call me at 8.30am this morning to say that his back seized up after training yesterday, Connor Hall had a little setback but he should be back sooner rather than later, Nico Lawrence is obviously out, Jay Mingi is on his way back, there’s also Owura Edwards and Ellis Iandolo out too.
“There’s players missing out of this team at the minute and I think all these injuries have really not helped the team. [They’re} an integral part of what we’re trying to do.
“The players are absolutely devastated….there wasn’t much said and I don’t think there was much to say, in terms of the type of game it was and what they gave.
“Yes 100 per cent, we need to be better in both boxes and our decision making needs to be better but they were really deflated.
It’s disappointing to lose the game and I understand the fans’ frustration but it’s just not really happening at the moment.
“We had two big opportunities and if we take them, the game looks very different. They then got their goal and it probably took a little bit of belief out of players after that. The second goal is avoidable initially, the way we deal with it – I’m not sure it’s a penalty.
“Those early moments were key to the game. I think if we take one of them, it looks a different afternoon. It kind of fizzled out a little bit but I can’t fault the players; they kept going. They were looking for something but albeit, they couldn’t find it in the end.
“Crawley passed the ball well; they’re a possession-based team and do it well but we’re not getting the key moments right at the minute.
“When I first took over, we were getting the key moments right in both boxes but we’re probably not, at the minute.
“I can’t go in there and speak to the players and speak to them about what they’re giving us in terms of endeavour – I defy anyone to tell me any different and those players kept going until the end on a really heavy pitch.”
He (Matty Etherington) been really good, very open with the boys, very clear with what he wants us to do and how he wants to implement it.
-Colchester United striker John Akinde.
Despite the injuries which hampered Etherington, there was some good news as John Akinde continued his comeback from injury. The experienced striker, who was one of the stand-out talents in the National League with Ebbsfleet when Wrexham were relegated to the National League in 2008, managed 36 minutes to add to the half hour he played in his comeback from injury in midweek.
“It’s really good to be back", he told the Daily Gazette, "I think it was the longest injury I’ve had in my career. It’s been a very long time and I’m just happy to be out there again.
“It was an awkward injury, I’ve been told, hard to get rid of in terms of treatment. It just required rest and management. It’s probably something that happened over time, that I tried to manage over the early part of pre-season, but then it just got to a point where it was unbearable. Every time I was trying to run, it was causing me problems and affecting my game, which is not what I want. Hopefully, it’s all sorted now.
“I feel like I’ve still got a lot to give, in terms of playing."
Apart from Akinde's return, Etherington can call on goalkeeper after he was recalled from his loan at Solihull Moors, and there are further signs his injury headache could be easing.
Captain Connor Hall might return from hernia surgery in time for the trip to North Wales, while Ellis Iandolo and Owura Edwards have both returned to training. 19 year-old striker Samson Tovide has been added to the injury list after picking up an ankle injury on Saturday, though.
A familiar face in the Colchester ranks is Fiacre Kelleher. The big Irish centre back was a popular character at the Stok Cae Ras during his one season with us in the 2020-21 season, and after only 2 appearances in the first 2 months of this season he has established himself as a regular part of The Us' side.
As the side with the worst defence in the division, he knows they face a battle to turn the season around, though, and told BBC Essex:
"We need a bit of tough love between each other, be more honest and demand more from each other....silly mistakes are really costing us.
"There are some good bits in there but at the moment there's no point talking about them because we're just letting each other down in those vital little moments, those set-piece moments when we're not strong enough.
"We need to address this. Whether we need to go out on a Thursday and a Tuesday and practice set-pieces aggressively, corners, marking people, [maybe] that's what needs to be done because at the minute it's just incredibly frustrating.
"Whether we need to change to zonal and make it more man-to-man marking, I don't know, but we need to change it because it's our Achilles heel at the moment."
THIS WEEKEND'S OTHER FIXTURES
Crawley Town v Mansfield Town
Crewe Alexandra v Accrington Stanley
Doncaster Rovers v Morecambe
Gillingham v Bradford City
Harrogate Town v Notts County
Milton Keynes Dons v Forest Green Rovers
Newport County v Grimsby Town
Salford City v AFC Wimbledon
Stockport County v Sutton United
Swindon Town v Barrow
Walsall v Tranmere Rovers
HEAD TO HEAD
You might not recall our more recent games against Colchester United, as they took place nearly 20 years ago. However, there's a chance Phil Parkinson will remember them as he was The Us' boss the last 4 times we met!
We last played them in the 2004-05 season, and benefitted from late goals in each match. The home game saw all the scoring in the second half: Lee Jones gave us the lead, but we needed an 80th minute strike from Hector Sam to earn a 2-2 draw. Neil Roberts scored early in the second period at Layer Road and the game looked destined to finish in a 1-1 draw too, but Chris Llewellyn snatched the winner in the dying embers of the match.
The previous season, Parkinson enjoyed a league double over us. In October we lost 1-0 at the Stok Cae Ras, and the match at Layer Road ended in a 3-1 loss: Sam struck early this time swiftly responding to a 15th minute opener, but we ended up losing 3-1.
Our biggest win over United was a 4-1 victory in October 1961. Player-manager Ken Barnes scored, his namesake Ron Barnes got another 2 and Micky Metcalf completed the scorers.
The following season we played out a remarkable game. Wrexham had been struggling for goals, while United's defence had made a habit of not conceding, but we'd racked up 3 goals by the break through Arfon Griffiths, Mickey Metcalf and Brian Whitehouse. However, United refused to be dominated and kept fighting back with striker Martyn King, who would sign for us the following Summer, grabbing two. Even two goals in three second half minutes by Ernie Phythian and Alan Fox weren't enough to kill Colchester off: they scored with 8 minutes left to guanrantee a nervous conclusion as we held on for a 5-4 win.
Overall the fixture, which goes back to 1947, is well balanced: Wrexham have enjoyed 18 wins of 52 matches, while The Us have won 19.
If you enjoyed the fast start to last week's Burton Albion match, imagine what you'd have thought after 13 minutes of Colchester's visit to Wrexham in October 1969, as you'd have already witnessed 5 goals! Even more incredibly, United took a 4th minute lead, but found themselves 4-1 down 9 minutes later! Ray Smith equalised with a minute of Brown's opener, and eight minutes later he was completing his hat trick! Bobby Park also scored in the opening 10 minutes of a ludicrous opening period. It's perhaps equally surprising that only one more goal followed that wild opening, as United pulled one goal back but ended up on the wrong end of a 4-2 scoreline,
Sam Dalby’s 75th Wrexham game.
Max Cleworth’s 75th career match.
Tom O’Connor’s 50th Wrexham league appearance.