Colchester United head coach John McGreal believes striker Kurtis Guthrie is now showing signs of recapturing his magical form of last season.

The 24-year-old striker, who was the U’s joint-second leading scorer with 12 goals in the 2016-17 campaign, has not started a league game for more than ten months following ankle problems.

But he impressed as a substitute in the final half hour of their goal-less draw with Cambridge United on New Year’s Day, his third successive appearance off the bench for Colchester.

McGreal says he spotted flashes of the kind of form that made Guthrie a prized asset in League Two last season – and is only expecting the mercurial forward to get stronger, as he continues his return to match action.

McGreal said: “Kurtis proved a handful when he came on.

“He got himself about and mixed it, as he does.

“He’s a game boy and he gave us that little bit of a platform at that end of the pitch for the last ten to 15 minutes, to get us out of that defensive third.

“He looked like his old self with that run he made and the player that all of the fans and the spectators adore from last season.

“He ran away from the defender and just missed that shot on target.

“But that’s coming with training and the more that we pitch him in, the more that will come on the pitch.”

Meanwhile, McGreal has challenged defender Cole Kpekawa to make 2018 his year.

The U’s boss named the former Queens Park Rangers youngster in his starting line-up for the first time in two-and-a-half months against Cambridge.

Kpekawa has managed just five league appearances for Colchester since arriving from Barnsley, last summer but boss McGreal has challenged him to compete regularly for a starting spot in his side.

“We’ve said to Cole from day one that it’s an opportunity for him to come and play football,” said McGreal.

“He hasn’t hit the floor running but I had a chat with him on Sunday and told him he was playing (against Cambridge) and said ‘2018, is this your year, Cole?’ “I’ve given him that challenge and it’s a great start for him.

“He did everything we asked for, put himself about and lasted the 90 minutes and some of his passing was excellent, at times.”

McGreal added that Ryan Inniss is not far off a return, with the centre-back having missed Colchester’s last five games with a shoulder injury.

“He’s not a long way off,” he said. “He’s with Tony (Flynn) and Stef (Russo) and he’s been working up that fitness that he would have lost by not being involved in the training sessions.”