JOHN McGreal admits Colchester United must ‘nail’ their goalkeeper position for next season.

The U’s have this week been linked with a move for their former shot-stopper Dean Gerken, following his release by Ipswich Town.

But with Ethan Ross, Dillon Barnes, Rene Gilmartin and Bailey Vose all competing for the number one shirt, boss McGreal has thrown down the gauntlet for the contenders to stake their claim when they return for pre-season.

Speaking to the Gazette earlier this month, McGreal said: “We need to nail that number one.

“There’s been injuries and loss of form that meant that different players came in.

“But we ended up with 19 clean sheets whether Rene (Gilmartin), Dillon (Barnes) or Ethan (Ross) was in goal.

“That’s hard to get at this level and I’m delighted with that.

“We feel as though we have four excellent keepers and that’s the challenge I’ve thrown down in the meetings – who is going to be number one?

“That will be known in pre-season.

“Bailey Vose has made his presence felt on the bench and Ethan has had the shirt to finish with and has done really, really well.

“He’s surprised me with his stature and come pre-season, it’ll be interesting to see.

“Rene is the player-coach first and foremost but we want him to be a player as well.”

Colchester kept an impressive 19 clean sheets as a team in League Two, last season.

However, they fielded three different keepers throughout the campaign, with Barnes and Gilmartin sharing the role before Ross started the final two games of the season.

Speculation has linked Gerken, who made 127 appearances for the U’s after emerging through their youth set-up, with a Colchester return.

The 34-year-old left the U’s to join Bristol City in 2009 and has spent the last six years at Ipswich.

Meanwhile, Colchester are busy assembling their pre-season programme, with a number of friendlies in the pipeline.

The U’s are also likely to spend time away as a squad, with a return to Carden Park in Chester expected.

McGreal added: “We’ll try and mix the friendly games up but it’ll be a similar style of play that we want to come up against and standard we want to face.

“We’re hoping to tie down a couple of big fixtures too because we do feel that pre-season over the three years has been good and put us into a good start to a season.

“It’s only the second year where we were late in getting a few players in and didn’t have the best of starts but the first year and this year, we’ve made excellent starts.”