WHEN Robbie Cowling last spoke publicly about Colchester United’s predicament, he stressed the time for judgements would be when the season was over.

That time is nearly here.

Thankfully, the U’s chairman’s thorough post-season assessment will take place with them still a League Two club after several months of toil and trouble ended with them finally securing their Football League spot, with one game to spare.

Naturally, the sense of relief was palpable at the JobServe Community Stadium after the 1-0 win over play-off chasing Salford City.

But things move quickly, in football.

Thoughts have already turned to the future and a huge summer that lies ahead for the U’s.

Avoiding relegation is never something to be celebrated or savoured.

But in the context of what has turned out to be a very difficult campaign for Colchester, the feeling at avoiding the drop out of the Football League was nevertheless a joyful one.

Now they must ensure they learn the lessons of this season - a root and branch investigation of why things have turned out the way they have - and move on.

Cowling approached the pandemic on the chin and took the financial hit when it came along, which he admits was taking a risk with the squad.

Hindered by the loss of the likes of Luke Prosser, Frank Nouble and Ryan Jackson last summer, coupled with Covid-related financial constraints that prevented them from strongly reinforcing their squad as they might have done, these have been difficult times for the U’s, especially after the high of reaching the play-offs last season.

After making a decent start under new head coach Steve Ball, their descent down the table began at the end of the calendar year was alarming and left them in very real danger of relegation.

After Wayne Brown’s interim spell quickly came and went, Hayden Mullins stepped up from the role of assistant manager to steer the U’s to safety, ably assisted by the vastly experienced Paul Tisdale.

Colchester have won three, drawn two and lost two of the seven matches they have been in charge; they have been victorious in three of their last four games.

The U’s are finishing what has been a very disappointing season strongly.

The pair have done an impressive job and naturally, having them at the helm on a permanent basis would presumably be an inviting prospect for Colchester.

Whether or not that becomes a reality remains to be seen.

Mullins has his admirers as does Tisdale, who has been linked with the England under-21 job recently vacated following the departure of former U’s boss, Aidy Boothroyd.

If Mullins and Tisdale are considering taking charge, they already will be acutely aware of the huge importance of player recruitment at Florence Park, in the coming months.

Cowling may well see this summer as a chance to rebuild the squad, with so many players out of contract including the likes of skipper Harry Pell, Callum Harriott and stalwart Tom Eastman.


Recruitment will be key and much of that process will be presided over by former head coach Ball, who has already been working hard on that side of things behind the scenes for the past six weeks or so, since returning in his new role.

One thing is for sure; the U’s squad that starts the 2021-22 season is likely to be very different to the one that finishes it.

But at least it will be starting it in League Two, with that status having been in serious doubt for so long, prior to last weekend.

Cowling will also want the club’s new permanent head coach to adhere to the club’s pathway for academy players and be brave enough to blood those youngsters in the first team.

It is something that arguably influenced John McGreal’s departure as boss last summer and an element of the job that Mullins, Tisdale or whoever else is in contention for the U’s hot seat must give plenty of thought.

Cowling has already taken full responsibility for Colchester’s predicament, this season.

He made some difficult choices and took the financial hit brought on by the pandemic on the chin, ensuring every penny that needed to be paid has been paid.

Given the hugely difficult circumstances for all Football League clubs brought on by the pandemic, Cowling will feel Colchester will be in very good financial state to move forward now they have survived and avoided the drop.

He has had his critics over recent months but has managed the club sensibly and correctly, through what has been a hugely challenging time.


The U’s can now look forward to a brighter future, hopefully with fans back at the Community Stadium.

But once the judgement on this campaign has concluded, more tough decisions must be made – and made correctly - this summer, if Colchester are to truly learn the lessons of a largely miserable season.