COLCHESTER United could be without as many as five central midfielders for their vital trip to play fellow play-off hopefuls Exeter City this afternoon.

But U's head coach John McGreal insists the absence of several senior players can give other players an opportunity to shine.

Colchester are definitely without midfield quartet Harry Pell, Tom Lapslie, Brandon Comley and Louis Dunne for the game at St James Park.

And Ben Stevenson is a big doubt for the U's, after missing training with a groin injury this week.

However, boss McGreal says the absence of several players can give some of his other players a chance to impress.

McGreal said: “We have injuries in central midfield at the moment but we get on with it – simple as.

“If players aren’t fit, it gives opportunities to other boys.

“I’ve been on record already to say that if you’re missing the calibre of player in the heart of your team like we are at the moment, things aren’t always going to go right.

“You’re not going to do the tracking of runners or the defending side of it, because you’ve got a load of attacking midfielders in there."

Academy duo Noah Chilvers and Diaz Wright are both hoping to start against Exeter in central midfield.

And 16-year-old winger Todd Miller, who is still in Year 11 at secondary school, has travelled down to Devon with the U's squad, along with fellow teenager Dean Ager.

McGreal added: “Is it too early to bring Noah Chilvers in?

“It’s on my mind – Diaz Wright has done it before."

Stevenson did not train on Thursday with the rest of the Colchester squad, having been substituted in the closing stages of the 3-0 loss to Forest Green.

McGreal said: “Ben's come off with a slight groin strain (against Forest Green), for one or two of the fans who were questioning why.

“He’s been carrying a bit of a groin strain of late and it’s one where it’s felt a little bit worse and he’s had to come off.

“Will he recover in time? I don’t really know to be honest.

“It’s one where he’s going to be time assessed with good physio work into it going into Saturday.

“We’ll have to wait and see what the next 48 hours brings.

“It’s one where we don’t want to bring him back too early.

“It depends on the advice he gets going and also, how he’s feeling as well."

Colchester face an Exeter side who sit two points - and two places - behind them in the League Two table.

They are managed by former U's loanee Matt Taylor, who had a brief spell at the JobServe Community Stadium back in 2013.

McGreal added: “Matt's steadied the ship and got them playing the right way.

“He’s got some good players there despite losing a couple.

“They had a game postponed the other night but I’m sure he’ll be looking to get back to winning ways as well.

“Exeter are having a good season but I never see people saying that about us – we are too.

“I speak to well-known people in the game who watch a lot of football in division two and if they’re saying that we’re having a good season, then I believe them."