Cheltenham Town 1-3 Colchester United Six Things: Norris fires U’s to victory


John McGreal –

After a feisty encounter, Colchester United won 3-1 at Cheltenham Town 3-1 thanks to a Luke Norris brace and a Harry Pell penalty. Here’s our Player Ratings from the match.

Cheltenham’s energy

Since Russ Milton took caretaker charge, the endeavour in this Cheltenham side could not be questioned; in fact, in the first half, they were almost trying too hard. Ahead of Nigel Atangana, who had an excellent game in the holding role, there was three attacking midfielders and two strikers who were all trying to influence things in congested areas. The Robins were short of a touch of composure in the middle of the park to take the burden off Atangana and make them less susceptible to counter-attacks.

Norris’ brace

Colchester enjoyed a two-goal lead at the break, but it was not a case of them ripping apart Cheltenham constantly – home centre-backs Johnny Mullins and Will Boyle were solid in the main. Rather, they were very clinical from dead ball scenarios. Harry Pell, returning to his old club, won a penalty off Atangana that was dispatched by Luke Norris. who bagged 14 goals for Swindon last season and took his seasonal tally to four midway through the first half. The striker, who didn’t have the busiest of games in open play, completed his brace with an excellent free-kick nobody in red and white could have done anything about, followed by wild celebrations.

The Broom-inspired resurgence

For a 20-minute spell at the start of the second half, Cheltenham left winger Ryan Broom caused many problems down the left flank; Ryan Jackson needed a lot of defensive help from Pell to combat his threat. Cheltenham did get one back when Kevin Dawson drilled home from the edge of the box, but their attacking play could have done with a bit more variation. Without an attacking right-back to offer width – Jordon Forster is a conservative option – there was an overreliance on Broom, at least until Tyrone Barnett came on to offer the option for them to go direct from deep.

Pell haunts old club

Visiting centre-backs Frankie Kent, Tom Eastman and Luke Prosser handled the pressure well though; although they hadn’t looked a threat going forward in the second half, they did make the game safe on 88 minutes; after Sammie Szmodics was brought down, Pell struck home from the spot. The midfielder had received some stick from Cheltenham fans who might have been unhappy about his summer switch but, to his credit, his muted celebration shows that, even if he had to make a sensible career decision, he retains respect for his former club.

Change at Cheltenham

Milton has done well to galvanize the players but, after a period of direct football under Gary Johnson, this is a Robins side in need of fresh ideas. The signs are that chairman Andy Wilcox is looking at bringing in a club legend – somebody who can get supporters onside quickly. It’s important, though, that the new man has shown some managerial acumen – Jerry Gill could be a good option after showing promise in the sixth-tier with Bath City. With survival looking increasingly like it would be a good season, Cheltenham cannot afford to dawdle.

The New U’s

So often, we have associated with Colchester United a club that is too loyal to it’s youth-based philosophy, a team that lacks physicality and the pragmatism to adapt to the opposition. They have changed. While The U’s have shown earlier in the season against Port Vale and Crewe that they can impress with smooth interplay when the situation called for it, their performance at Whaddon Road shows they have acquired the knack of winning games without necessarily playing the way they would ideally like for 90 minutes. There is a long way to go, of course, but Colchester appear to have the adaptability for a sustained top seven push.