By David Hennessy
In 14th place in League One, Colchester United have play-off ambitions and are looking to move up the table but know they can take nothing for granted in this tight league, as bad results could drag them towards the relegation zone.
Under the stewardship of Joe Dunne and his assistant Mark Kinsella, both from Dublin, The Us have come through a successful Christmas period with a 4-0 win over Stevenage on St Stephen’s Day as the highlight.
However, this was followed by a defeat to Crewe and while Colchester United have shown themselves to be capable of beating some of the division’s high flying teams, they have also let leads slip and the management team know that more consistency is needed.
“It’s a matter of turning the draws into wins,” boss Joe Dunne tells The Irish World. “We’ve drawn ten games. It’s been a mixed bag really from being in winning positions to actually fighting back to drawing but generally overall performances have been good. Most of the games we’ve lost have been against teams in the top six. You need a big squad really getting into this part of the season, we’ve been decimated by injuries and continue to be that. We’re missing five or seven strikers which makes a big difference because it takes away a lot of speed from our team.
“I’ve been really pleased with the resilience that the team has shown based on the fact that we’ve been using a lot of young players which has helped us. We’ve been able to blood some of our better youngsters and they’ve done really well. Christmas is always a busy period, we’ve got some big games coming up that can put us in a stronger position than we are at the moment.
“Concentration plays a majorly important role and if you’re a player in league one, you can’t make too many mistakes. The minute you switch off in any league, you get punished and we’ve been working really hard to make the players mentally tougher.”
Loan signings like Sam Walker and Luke Garbutt, from Chelsea and Everton respectively, have been key but so has the club’s own young players such as the 18-year-old Macauley Bonne who has scored three times in eight appearances in all competitions.
Joe continues: “We’ve worked the loan system very well at the club. Most clubs are very willing to allow their young players to go out, it’s a different environment for them because it’s the pressure of three points and you go from development football into an arena where three points are the be all and end all but what we try to do is still look from a development point of view to bring out the best in the young ones.
“The system does work, it’s just a case of getting them at the right time and we’ve had good success from Arsenal, Chelsea, West Ham and Everton. You’ve got the high profile Andros Townsend who has been a bit of a loan ranger (who enjoyed loan spells at several clubs and is now featuring prominently for Tottenham and England). It puts us in a strong position to be able to deal with the Premier League clubs because they know we look after them and they get games which is important for their development because it’s very tough to break into a premier league group.”
“I’ve given between six and nine debuts this year and it’s something that doesn’t bother me, it doesn’t fill me with fear. I’m a great believer in the developing of young players and if you’re good enough, you’re old enough in my opinion. In general, they’ve done well: The majority of them have held their own. Macauley Bonne has got a few senior goals at such a young age that he’s seen now as a regular first team environment player and we’ve got a lot of teenagers in the team. It’s something that doesn’t bother me. You want the strongest team available to you and I’ve been courageous enough to use the young players and that’s the way we want to be as a club.
“We have a plan, we want to bring through our young players. Our goal is to get 50-70% of our players in the next five years to be home grown talent and I believe we can and we’re well on our way. The problem is in the modern game, a lot of judgement is based on results. It’s just a factor of the game but sometimes if you take a step back, you can see we are doing a lot of things really well behind the scenes and unfortunately sometimes your Saturday afternoons will dictate everything when there’s a lot more good going on. What you’ve seen lately is a conveyor belt of sackings which does nobody good really.”
There is not too many senior pros in Joe’s young squad but there is experience there in captain Brian Wilson and former Republic of Ireland international striker, Clinton Morrison. Now 34, the former Crystal Palace striker supplied crucial goals last season when the team were battling for League One survival: “It’s not packed with experience. There’s plenty of people around to offer advice but what I’m finding with the young players these days is that they’re not shy, they’ve got plenty of confidence and the trick is to nurture that confidence and point them in the right direction.
“Absolutely, we haven’t got that many senior pros and Clinton is doing very well at the moment for us, he’s kept himself fit and generally he’s been playing very well. He’s vital in terms of the experience he can bring.”
Mark adds: “Clint’s great to have in the squad. He has played at the highest level and has great experience of playing in a world cup. He’s there in the dressing room, he’s there for advice.”
Joe Dunne was promoted to the management role in 2012. One thing he will be eager to make sure his team avoid is the same close shave they have last year, only guaranteeing their safety on the last day of the season: “It was a lot closer than it should have been. We’re in a situation now where two wins lifts us into a top ten position or two defeats drops us back into a relegation scrap so the league is exceptionally tight in league one. It’s that kind of league and we don’t want to be drawing upon ourselves the kind of situation we were in last year, that’s for sure.”
For the full interview, see the January 11 Irish World.