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Match Previews

PREVIEW | Colchester United vs Wrexham

Is a draw enough for either team?

5 April 2024

Match Previews

PREVIEW | Colchester United vs Wrexham

Is a draw enough for either team?

5 April 2024

Colchester United just can't stop drawing, but being hard to beat hasn't stopped them from slipping into the bottom two. Wrexham, meanwhile, have drawn just 3 in the last 25 games, and know that only reeling off the wins will keep the chasing pack at arm's length.


Phil Parkinson returns to the club where he cut his managerial teeth with that familiar promotion run-in feeling. He took over at Colchester in February 2003 and ensured they didn't drop into League Two. Three seasons later he steered them to second place and promotion to The Championship, despite having the lowest attendance in the division. 

Last Tuesday's defeat meant we failed to take advantage of the poor results suffered by our promotion rivals the day before. Parkinson will have some interesting options to ponder after substitutions brought more energy in the second half: George Evans got some meaningful minutes as he continued his return from injury, which enabled Tom O'Connor to return to the central defensive role he excelled in earlier this season. 


Such a change would bring about the possibility of moving James McClean back into central midfield, although Jacob Mendy wasn't ready to take a place on the bench at Doncaster. Ryan Barnett made an impact as a half time substitute on the right as well, throwing his hat into the ring.



Colchester have been drawn into the relegation battle by the rejuvenation of Sutton United and Forest Green Rovers, and slipped into the dreaded bottom two on Easter Monday. If that seems counter-inituitive, as they won 4 points over the Easter weekend, it's equally odd that they've slipped into the relegation zone despite their results improving markedly since a change of manager four months ago.

United dispensed with manager Matty Etherington after a home defeat to Gillingham on New Year's Day which was an 8th defeat in 9 games in all competitions. They pulled off a coup when highly-rated managerial team, Danny and Nicky Cowley, were appointed to take the team forwards.

It's going to be a good atmosphere...we just have to make sure we turn up and start fast

-Fiacre Kelleher, Colchester and former Wrexham centre back.

The Cowley brothers started out at Concord Rangers, earning three promotions before taking Braintree Town into the National League play-offs. They then did a remarkable job at Lincoln City, winning two promotions and steering The Imps to the last 8 in the FA Cup. They then took on a sleeping giant in Portsmouth before having a year's sabbatical in which, among other things, Danny observed the practises of Brighton coach Roberto De Zerbi.

He told the Daily Mirror: "He's pretty much reinventing the game at Brighton. Some of his ideas are just incredible. We're always trying to tweak our ideas and our ways to find a better way of working. We talk a lot about philosophies now - I'm never quite sure that football is that complicated. If you look at the likes of Johann Cruyff, Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and in more recent times somebody like De Zerbi, they all have their own philosophies that they've created. They're geniuses at work and it's always a pleasure to be able to watch them; I think with the rest of us, there's probably a bit of imitation. That's okay as well.

"I look at football and I think it's great the way the game is going. The modern game is such a tactical one: not only are you trying to outwork and outfight opponents, now you're trying to outthink and outwit them.

"You're seeing a lot of clubs adopting that model of a director of football which then enables a head coach to focus on the work on the grass and improving the team."

"You look at the younger ones coming in but then you've also got the likes of Ange Postecoglou; look at what he's doing at Spurs with that group at Premier League level. The way he's stripped it back, the way he communicates and his language is fantastic.

"It just shows you that there are many different ways of having success. He very much is probably a little bit more old school; a little bit more around man-management and forging that connection with the player. Mine and Nicky's ambition is to live somewhere in the middle: a modern way of working with the old school values."

The Cowleys made an instant, sustained impact: from losing 8 out of 9 games, Colchester have since become extremely difficult to beat, losing just twice in 13 games under the new regime. The problem is that they've only won 2 in that time, so despite introducing much-needed stability to the team, the Cowley brothers need to add a ruthless streak.

At least they have games in hand, as problems with the pitch at the Colchester Community Stadium have caused postponements. That led to an unusual turn of events three weeks ago when the EFL gave permission for them to reduce the size of their pitch, as it was drainage issues at the extremities of the playing area which were causing the issues.. The dimensions are now 4 metres narrower and 3 metres shorter as a result, which won't hinder the battling spirit and tight shape which has characterised Colchester under the Crowleys. 

Not only have they instilled the sort of fighting spirit needed to win a battle for survival, but the prospect of a full house on Saturday has offered up an opportunity to rally the fans around the cause. Danny Crowley told the Colchester Gazette:

“For us to hear that the Wrexham game is sold out in the home end is just incredible from the people of Colchester and the people of Essex. What a great opportunity!

“I think there’s going to be some supporters who are yet to see this Colchester United team. This is a different Colchester United team to one that they may have seen, in the past.

“It has to start somewhere. I remember at Lincoln City, when we first went there, there were maybe 2,000 supporters, 1,300 season-ticket holders; within a year, we had 7,500 season-ticket holders and were playing in front of 10,000 every week.


We go into Saturday’s game looking to win and take nothing other than three points.

-Alastair Smith, Colchester midfielder.


“Anything is possible and you have to believe first and really believe in what you do and the way that you work. What do they say in Field of Dreams? If you build it, they will come and we’re trying to build something.

“The ambition is for us to play really well on Saturday and for those supporters who are coming for the first time or maybe only come occasionally, we want them to come every game. If we can create that connection in the ground, then who wouldn’t want to support Colchester United?

“Our support since we’ve been here has been brilliant. The people who come to every home game and those who come to every home and away game, we’re so appreciative of their support. With the position that the team finds themselves in, to see everybody so motivated to try and help and support the team has meant a lot I think to everybody connected to the club.

“I don’t know where else in the country you see teams in the position that we’re in being sold out. We’re thankful to the people of Colchester that they can see that the boys are fighting really hard, that are really committed to the cause and for their help and their support."

Despite dropping into the relegation zone, Colchester enjoyed a good Easter weekend, following up a win against Newport County with a good point at Tranmere. They had to endure a lot of pressure at Prenton Park, especially in the first half, and the performance of The Us goalkeeper Owen Goodman drew praise from an unexpected quarter. Rovers manager Nigel Adkins was fulsome in his praise for Goodman, telling Tranmere's YouTube channel: "Their goalkeeper was exceptional for them.

"It was an outstanding goalkeeping performance by the opposition goalkeeper that's kept them in the game. The amount of 'oohs' and 'aahs' we had with it going over the bar or just past the post with the shots we had. We played some really good attacking football."

Tranmere took a 7th minute lead through ex-Wrexham winger Kieron Morris, but were immediately pegged back as Alastair Smith scored a beauty less than a minute later. He told the Colchester Gazette:

“It’s something that I know I’ve got in my locker. It’s been a while since I’ve scored a goal like that, so it was a really nice feeling. It felt really good when it left my foot and it was nice to see it nestle in.

"It’s something I know I can do and I felt I was unlucky against Newport when I hit the underside of the bar and in the second half, the keeper made a really good save from one of my shots, too so I knew it was coming.”

“If you’re coming away from home and getting a point, it’s always a good thing because you could leave with zero. It’s a point gained and we can’t look at it any other way. We can’t look at the other teams and we’ve got to keep taking care of our games. If you start looking at what other teams are doing, you take your eye off the ball, so we’re really just focusing on us.

“We took four points from the Easter weekend, a busy schedule and long trip to Tranmere and we go into the home games with loads of confidence.

“Sometimes in certain games, you work it out later than others. You can’t come away and expect to dominate 90 minutes. Usually, we start really well but it seemed like we were really on the back foot. My goal might have settled us into the game and it felt like a big moment at the time. As soon as we worked it out in the second half, we got a lot more control. We passed the ball and I think we always look a better side when we do that. When you do that, you build confidence in yourself and in the team.

“I think we just edged it and were the better side and we have to capitalise on that.”



For the second time in 5 days we’re travelling to a new venue on Saturday. Having played at Doncaster’s Eco Power Stadium for the first time on Wednesday, we  now make our first journey to the Colchester Community Stadium.

We signed off from their traditional home, Layer Road, in the grand manner. Neil Danns, father of Liverpool prodigy Jayden, gave Colchester the lead at the start of the second half, but Neil Roberts equalised and Chris Llewellyn struck in the final minute to earn the win. The Colchester manager that day was a certain Phil Parkinson (although in the interests of balance I have to point out that his team did the league double over us the season before.)

Saturday's game is a sell-out, which means the attendance will fall just short of the biggest to attend a Wrexham game in Colchester: 10,628 in 1947 for our first clash, an FA Cup tie which then-non-league United won 1-0.


Perhaps our most significant game there came in December 1961. United were top of the Fourth Division but we were breathing down their necks and started the game in sensational manner. Wyn Davies opened the scoring in the first minute, and then added a second 5 minutes later.

Ron Barnes put us 3-0 up at the break, but United would fight back with Martyn King, who would go on to play up front for us, beat debutant keeper Kevin Keelan to narrow the gap. When Colchester made it 3-2 half way through the second half it looked like there’d be a grandstand finish, but we struck back immediately when Micky Metcalf won a penalty. Player-manager Ken Barnes, whose prowess from the spot was well known, stroked the ball home and we would go on to earn promotion.

We controlled the game from that point to run out 4-2 winners – the local press report described our second half performance as “near immaculate” – and both sides were promoted at the end of the season.

We matched that scoreline in October 1992: Gary Bennett gave us the lead and while United equalised just before the break, Barry Jones scored in the last minute of the first half to restore our lead.

Colchester wouldn’t give up, and grabbed a second equaliser, but Bennett and Karl Connolly both struck to secure victory.

We were promoted that season as well, and also beat United 4-2 at home when we were promoted in 1970, so if you’re superstitious you’ll be hoping for another 4-2 win on Saturday. I’ll be hoping for one regardless!


Accrington Stanley v Crewe Alexandra
AFC Wimbledon v Salford City
Barrow v Swindon Town
Bradford City v Gillingham
Forest Green Rovers v Milton Keynes Dons
Grimsby Town v Newport County
Mansfield Town v Crawley Town
Morecambe v Doncaster Rovers
Notts County v Harrogate Town
Sutton United v Stockport County
Tranmere Rovers v Walsall
Who knows what will happen today in this most crazy of run-ins? On paper the league leaders ought to relish a trip to the 22nd side, but Stockport instead face a Sutton team which has won its last 4 games. Mansfield entertain Crawley, who have won 4 of their last 6 games to edge into the play-off places.
Looking at the teams which are chasing us, the theme of top versus bottom continues: Milton Keynes Dons travel to bottom side Forest Green Rovers, who pulled off a jaw-dropping 3-0 win at Crewe on Monday. Barrow have what looks like a straightforward home game against Swindon Town, and Crewe look to get back on track at Accrington.


Jacob Mendy's 200th career appearance.

Sam Dalby's 175th career appearance.

Tom O'Connor's 75th Wrexham appearance.


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