COLCHESTER United are making good progress in League Two as they seek promotion back to the third tier of English football for next season — helped in no small manner by the recent purple patch of attacking midfielder Sammie Szmodics.

Szmodics, 22, is a key member of John McGreal’s U’s squad and has found the back of the net 11 times in 20 appearances in League Two so far this season — just four goals less than Danny Hylton, of Luton Town, who leads the goal-scoring charts along with Accrington’s Billy Kee.

What makes this impressive is Szmodics’ conversion rate in line with time spent on the pitch — the promising young midfielder missed six games in a row through injury, but has come back fighting and scored seven goals in eight games after being reintroduced to the side.

Born in Colchester, Szmodics joined Colchester at the age of seven and progressed through the academy ranks. The impressive young midfielder made his professional debut for the club in September 2013, just four days after his 18th birthday.

Since then, the former Stanway School pupil has made over 80 appearances for the U’s and could reach a century by the end of the season, if he maintains his fitness and performances.

Szmodics has averaged a goal every 143 minutes in League Two this season, the best of any player with seven goals or more to their name. Not only is this a better rate than any of his fourth division peers, but Szmodics has scored league goals more frequently than Romelu Lukaku of Manchester United (181 minutes per goal) and Eden Hazard of Chelsea (200 minutes per goal) and Antoine Griezmann of Atletico Madrid (252 minutes per goal).

So, can the bustling young midfielder realistically mount a challenge for the Golden Boot this season?

Since the fourth tier of English football became known as League Two back in 2004, the lowest number of goals required to win the Golden Boot has been 18 (2011-12), while the highest number scored was 31 goals, by Tom Pope in the 2012-13 season.

On average, over the 13 complete League Two seasons so far, the top scorer has found the back of the net 24.9 times, or 25 times to make it a more rounded figure.

If Szmodics is to reach this 25-goal average, he needs to score 14 more times in the U’s remaining 19 games — an average of one goal every 1.35 games. With his current record of 11 goals in 20 games, the academy graduate has scored one goal for every 1.82 games. This means that, without considering any other factors, Szmodics perhaps needs to score a little more frequently than he is at the moment, in order to win finish, the season as top scorer — but not by any unachievable margin.

As illustrated by the accompanying chart, Szmodics is a little off the pace set by the top scorers in each of the last five seasons — but all five of those players were strikers rather than midfielders and none suffered a six-week layoff through injury, so had played more games by this point in the season.

In fact, Szmodics is only two or three goals behind the general trend of the last few years — after 26 League Two game weeks, Sam Winnall (2013-14) had scored 13 goals; Matt Tubbs (2014-15) had scored 12 times; Matty Taylor (2015-16) had found the back of the net 13 times and John Marquis (2016-17) had scored 14 goals.

Of course, Szmodics has plenty of competition for the honour of finishing the season as top scorer. Not only is Danny Hylton above the U’s gem on 15 goals, but Billy Kee, Jorge Grant, Adebayo Akinfenwa, Kristian Dennis and Christian Doidge have also scored more goals than Sammie — with Tom Pope and James Collins also on 11 goals, whilst Mohamed Eisa, Luke Norris and Danny Rose have all scored ten goals.

A 12-horse race for the Golden Boot is certainly an exciting one, but it’s important to remember that the individuals’ attacking capabilities aren’t the only important factors which contribute to a Golden Boot win.

Team form is understandably important — any player is more likely to score if their team is playing well, and in the case of Colchester and Szmodics, that co-dependent is a promising one.

McGreal’s U’s side are one of the form sides in League Two, having lost just three of their last 18 games in the league.

In their last ten games, Colchester have amassed 16 points — Wycombe Wanderers also boast this return, while six teams have managed more than the U’s.

This means that, of the six players currently ahead of Szmodics on the goal-scoring charts in League Two, only three are playing for a team performing at the same rate or better than the U’s – current joint-top scorer Danny Hylton, 13-goal Jorge Grant and 12-goal Wycombe man Adebayo Akinfenwa.

Another factor to consider is the personnel around the players vying for the position of top goal-scorer.

Defender Alan Sheehan of Luton Town has registered six assists so far this season, the joint-most at his club — yet he has only assisted one Danny Hylton goal.

Adebayo Akinfenwa, another real contender for the Golden Boot, is himself playing in a role that perhaps means he won’t score so many goals — being so skilled at hold-up play, he brings his Wycombe team-mates into the game more, and so often finds himself assisting goals rather than scoring them and he is the league’s second-most frequent assist maker, with seven to his name so far this term.

These player roles and relationships are another considerable reason why Szmodics still has a great chance of ending the season as top scorer.

While U’s man Kyel Reid (joint-third in league with six assists) has helped Mikael Mandron to three goals so far this season, he has also assisted Szmodics twice. The key man though, as far as Szmodics’ bid for the Golden Boot goes, could well be someone who is yet to play a minute for Colchester United this season.

That man, of course, is the affable Brennan Dickenson, who is certainly one of the league’s best creative players, alongside Szmodics himself.

Dickenson was voted as the U’s Player of the Year at the end of last season, but has not played since April after suffering a cruciate ligament injury.

Dickenson has, since the turn of the year, re-joined first-team training at the club for the first time, and is expected back in action in February. The addition of the energetic left-sided player is a boost for the entire club as the U’s seek out promotion, but his electric style and excellent delivery should help Szmodics to even more goals — the pair will be looking to re-form a partnership upon Dickenson’s return, in order to help the side up into League One.

There would be absolutely no shame in missing out on the Golden Boot to Luton’s Danny Hylton, especially as the Hatters seem to be strengthening their grip on automatic promotion week on week.

However, it is far from being a foregone conclusion that the Luton man will continue to lead the goal scoring charts, and it would be fair to say that, all things considered, Szmodics has more than just a small chance of winding up as top scorer come the end of the season.