ROBBIE Cowling admits Colchester United currently do not have cash available to strengthen their squad in next month’s transfer window.

The U’s chairman says the money spent on bringing new players in during the summer, along with a lack of progress in three cup competitions this season, has meant that they do not have the necessary funds to add to their first-team squad in January as they push for promotion from League Two.

However, Cowling does believe that John McGreal’s side are capable of clinching a top-seven finish, if they can keep a fit squad and maintain winning form - and has backed the club's academy youngsters to shine.

Writing in the U’s matchday programme for the Boxing Day clash with Stevenage, chairman Cowling said: “Looking forward to 2019, I’m sure you would all like me to give assurances that the team will remain at the top of the league and keep up its challenge for promotion.

“Of course I can’t guarantee anything, but I do believe that if we can avoid injuries and our players maintain their form then we should be there or thereabouts.

“There is also a little matter of the January transfer window to navigate too.

“As it stands, we don’t have the available budget we would like to have to bolster the squad.

“We were determined to start the season with a strong squad and we spent most of our budget achieving that.

“Our early exit from all of the cup competitions has not added to our budget in the way we hoped it would do.

“Having said all of that, I’m never going to allow squad numbers to be too high because we have some great young prospects and their pathway can’t be blocked by anything other than quality.

“To put everything in perspective I recently received a report from the league which compared what the players’ wage bill is at Colchester United compared to the rest of League Two.

“Bearing in mind that we have almost spent all of the allowed budget, the report showed us as having currently spent the twelfth highest amount on player wages in League Two.

“Fortunately, we have been able to rely on the strength of the Academy, where our U21s players don’t count towards the salary cap, allowing us to spend what budget we do have on quality and not quantity.

“We have a long term plan at the club to develop our own talent and I think it’s a good plan.

“I know, because they are not afraid to express their opinions via their keyboards, that some U’s fans don’t agree with the way I run the club.

“However, as the owner of the club, the decisions regarding the direction of the club and how money is invested are down to me alone.

“Ultimately, I have to run the club responsibly whilst I try my best to run it successfully.

“I don’t possess the brilliance to bring instant success but I do know how to plan for long term success and with the financial restrictions imposed on clubs that have our level of support, we require something else other than gate receipts to ensure we can be competitive every season.”

Ollie Kensdale last month became the latest Colchester academy player to make his first-team debut for the club.

The 18-year-old fellow home-grown players such as Tom Lapslie, Frankie Kent and Sammie Szmodics in rising to the senior ranks at the JobServe Community Stadium.

Cowling said Kensdale’s debut was particularly pleasing – and has hinted even younger players could follow suit.

He said: “Our investment in youth is paying off.

“We start most games with six or seven players who have graduated from our Academy and usually have a further four or five on the bench.

“Sammie, Frankie and Tom were all given their chance at a young age and are now established players having played 100+ games.

“How good was it to see Frankie Kent, who is only 22 himself, guiding Ollie Kensdale, who is only 18, through his debut?

“We have a very brave first team coach and if he thinks that a player is good enough, he’s old enough, so don’t be surprised to see even younger players breaking through into the first team.”

Cowling added that he is proud of the efforts of Colchester United’s 'exceptional' staff, over the last 12 months.

The U’s supremo added: “Personally and professionally, my 2018 has been exceptional.

“Owning Colchester United cuts across both aspects of my life and I can’t think of a year where I have been more proud of everyone associated with Colchester United and their achievements.

“Whether it’s the steward checking your parking ticket, the shop assistant selling you your new club shirt or Sammie scoring the winning goal.

“Everyone at the club works extremely hard to contribute to your matchday experience at Colchester United.

“All of which is great until you try to get out of the car park at the end of the game.

“This is one area that we know is getting worse but I can assure you we are working hard to resolve or at least soften the issues.”