FEW would have predicted at the start of the League Two season that Notts County would be rooted to the bottom of the table ahead of their game at Colchester United tomorrow.

When the U’s drew 0-0 at Meadow Lane on the opening day of the campaign, it was widely received as an excellent away point for John McGreal’s side.

Since then, the clubs’ fortunes have been contrasting, with Colchester the side to launch a promotion challenge and Notts County staring down the barrel of a relegation battle, in the second half of the season.

Some disappointing recent results have cast something of a temporary shadow over Colchester’s challenge.

But had the efforts of McGreal’s squad been assessed a fortnight or so earlier, their league position would have painted something of a brighter picture for the U’s at the halfway stage.

When Colchester’s players lapped up the cheers of their jubilant fans after winning 1-0 at MK Dons, they had reached the midway point of the campaign residing in the automatic promotion places and within two points of their second-placed opponents.

Everything was looking very rosy indeed and it represented an excellent first half of the season for McGreal and his side – which is why an evaluation of their efforts so far should not be influenced too heavily by three disappointing results.

Let’s not forget that along with beating MK Dons on their own turf, the U’s have also recorded notable wins over the likes of league leaders Lincoln City and Forest Green Rovers this season and held fellow promotion hopefuls like Mansfield Town and Exeter City to draws.

Nevertheless, defeats against Crawley Town on New Year’s Day and Stevenage on Boxing Day – coupled with a frustrating home draw against lowly Morecambe – were as alarming as they were surprising as one year ended and another started.

The manner of the U’s second-half performance against a Crawley side reduced to ten men on the half hour was tough to take, especially with the game there for the taking.

“I try and take the positives out of everything but you can’t dress that up,” admitted boss McGreal, who pulled no punches in the aftermath of the 2-0 loss at the Broadfield Stadium.

The result has left Colchester sitting outside of the top seven for the first time in a long time, which is perhaps why the reaction has been as it has been.

Up until recently, the U’s had gained a reputation as a team with potency in attack and a solid defence.

Their competence at both ends of the pitch has played a key role in helping establish them as genuine promotion contenders – which is perhaps why their profligacy in front of goal of late has been magnified.

Having hit the net a prolific 28 times in their opening dozen league matches of the campaign, Colchester have mustered just eight goals in their last 13 games, in League Two and just two in their last four fixtures (both of which were scored by defender, Luke Prosser).

Indeed, since the 3-1 home victory over Crawley Town in mid-October, they have failed to score more than once in any of their games.

So what’s changed?

The disruption caused by Luke Norris’s ankle injury has not helped matters.

Before being stretchered off in a 1-0 win over his former club Swindon Town in early November, the striker was going great guns and had hit eight goals.

Since returning after a month out, he has failed to find the net and that goal drought seems to have affected the rest of the side.

It also has not helped that joint leading scorer Sammie Szmodics, who had been in such electric form in November, has failed to find the net in his last six matches while Frank Nouble has not scored since mid-October.

Prior to results over the Christmas period, Colchester had been making a habit of winning games 1-0 – which is testament to the quality of their defending.

They still boast the fifth best defensive record in League Two and their recent clean sheet against Morecambe was impressively their 11th of the campaign.

Frankie Kent is having an excellent season alongside skipper Prosser, while full-backs Ryan Jackson and Kane Vincent-Young have been consistent throughout so far.

In Harry Pell, Colchester arguably boast one of the best midfielders in the division and he has formed a competent partnership with Tom Lapslie, who after the first half of the campaign is already in the running for the U’s Player of the Year award.

There have been other positives too, such as the emergence of academy players Ollie Kensdale and Diaz Wright into the first-team reckoning and the much-needed experience that the likes of Prosser, Pell and Nouble have brought to the squad, something that has been noticeably missing in previous seasons.

It seems unlikely that Colchester will be signing many new players – if any – in this month’s transfer window according to chairman Robbie Cowling, having been active in the summer.

One of the reasons cited has been the U’s lack of progress in any of the cup competitions, after they disappointingly fell at the first hurdle in the FA Cup, Carabao Cup and Checkatrade Trophy.

If there is no budget available, it will be up to McGreal and his current set of players to overcome this recent blip and get back to the kind of form that they were showing in the opening four and a half months of the season.

The U’s desire and character came into question after the Crawley defeat but they are still yet to lose back-to-back league games in the current games, a statistic that bodes well for the second half of the campaign in that it demonstrates that they are capable of responding to setbacks.

They will need to show that again this weekend when they host Notts County at the JobServe Community Stadium, where they have been on the whole pretty impressive this season and boast the fifth-best home record in the division.

With the U’s now finding themselves outside of the top seven, now is the time for them to revert to the role of hunter, rather than hunted.