JOHN McGreal insists hard work has helped his Colchester United side remain in top-seven contention all season.

And the U’s head coach admits they will have to step up their endeavours further between now and the end of the campaign, if they are to clinch a League Two play-off spot.

Colchester currently lie eighth in the table, a point off the play-off positions following their 3-0 defeat at Exeter City, last weekend.

McGreal admits his side are battling against sides with bigger budgets in the fourth tier – but says they must keep their belief heading into the final eight games of the season.

McGreal said: “It’s no coincidence that the teams with the biggest budgets are all in the top four.

“We are where we are because we’ve worked ever so hard to stay there and now we have to work even harder, with the backing of the fans and keeping that belief.

“It’s about the extra hard work we need to put in now – that’s the main thing.

“There was a lot of noise around Christmas time when the chairman came in and did a piece in the paper in terms of where we are, the constraints at the club, the opportunities we give and how we go about things.

“He spoke about the budgets in the league and different things – I try not to bring that up but every other manager in the league speaks about it so I think ‘why don’t I speak about it?’

“I tend not to, because we are where we are through hard work on the training pitch and opportunities for players and staff alike to be at a fantastic football club with a great stadium and great training ground.

“We have to try and stick together and that’s the big thing.

“We try and keep level headed and that’s what’s been good with the team, throughout the season.”

Meanwhile, McGreal is hoping regular game time will help Luke Norris rediscover his sharpness for Colchester.

The U’s striker has started the side’s last three games, having spent six weeks on the sidelines with an ankle injury earlier this year.

“Luke is still feeling his way in – 100 per cent,” said McGreal.

“We’re hoping that the more games he’s getting from his couple of knockbacks through injury, the fitter he’ll get and he’ll get himself into more goalscoring opportunities.

“We brought Luke in to be that 15-20 goal a season player along with the likes of Frank (Nouble) too.

“We haven’t been able to get that because of all of the fitness work and injury work as such.

“If you look at all of the other big clubs in the division, they’ve all got that 15-20 goal-a-season striker.

“We haven’t had that but we’ve had a lot of other boys chip in with numbers.”