IF his interim spell served as an audition, then Hayden Mullins thoroughly deserves the step up from understudy to take centre stage as Colchester United’s permanent head coach.

Mullins’ spell in caretaker charge of the U’s for the final eight games of the League Two campaign, a hugely challenging period where the club battled for their Football League survival, left a positive impression on everyone, including chairman Robbie Cowling.

Working alongside first-team advisor Paul Tisdale, he led a team struggling for goals, let alone wins, to three victories, three draws and two defeats in eight matches, steering them clear of relegation peril.

Mullins led Colchester to three successive home wins in that time – conceding only one in that period – along with impressive away draws at promotion-chasing Bolton Wanderers and Tranmere Rovers without conceding.

The 42-year-old’s calmness and composure under pressure, in an extremely testing situation, was impressive and something that ultimately convinced Cowling and the U’s directors that Mullins was the man to take them forward.

It was clear that Mullins was keen on taking the role on a permanent basis.

Speaking after the U’s had secured their safety, Mullins said: “The role was just until the end of the season, so I’m sure we’ll have a conversation after our last game.

“It’s a club that I’ve joined from Watford early on in the season and it’s a very good club – I’ve loved working with the players, the staff and everyone here.”

Now he has been appointed on a full-time basis, he can start afresh this summer knowing that he is in full charge of the team.

It is a new season and likely a start for everyone and he is set to inherit a squad that will feature many changes by the time the new League Two season kicks off, on August 7.

With more than a dozen players out of contract, with the financial implications of the global pandemic still very much being felt, it promises to be a busy summer for the U’s, who will obviously be eager to avoid a repeat of this season’s struggles.

Mullins will no doubt have his say on which type of player Colchester will need in order to compete at the right end of the table.

And on the pitch, he showed in the final eight games of the season that he was not afraid to make tactical changes, following his preference for playing what was essentially a 4-4-2 system.

One thing is for sure; Mullins is popular among the Colchester players.

His impressive playing career is one of the reasons for that and at 42, it was not that long ago that he was playing himself.

That is something that can act as a useful tool as he begins to establish relationships with his players as a head coach, rather than their interim boss or assistant manager.

It will not be an easy task; there is much work to do over the coming weeks behind the scenes to ensure that Colchester can be a more competitive force in the 2021-22 campaign, after such a disappointing season.

But Mullins has already shown that he has the coaching and personal qualities to be a success as a head coach.

And as he takes centre stage, now is his time to shine.