SKIPPER Dean Hammond is confident Colchester United can be a stronger force next season.

And the Gazette’s player of the year (pictured) believes their new-found mental toughness under boss Paul Lambert will help them compete.

Despite embarking on impressive nine-match and five-match unbeaten runs, Colchester struggled for consistency at times last season.

Lambert is determined to see his side respond immediately to any setbacks they suffer.

And his captain Hammond feels that will be the key to the U’s success, in the forthcoming campaign.

He told the Gazette: “The gaffer wants consistency from us.

“If we do lose a game, we know we have to bounce straight back.

“I think that’s the sign of a good team and that’s what he is trying to drill into us – to be winners.

“It’s slowly coming more into our game and we’re looking much stronger.

“The gaffer will have us in pre-season for the first time and it will be a fresh start.

“There are always fresh faces in any team in any season and it all looks good for next year.”

Hammond enjoyed an impressive first full season with Colchester.

The former Brighton and Hove Albion midfielder was the U’s second leading appearance maker.

Hammond played 47 league and cup games in total and was rewarded for his efforts with the player of the year accolade.

But the 26-year-old admitted he would gladly swap any personal trophy for promotion with Colchester.

“It was great to win the Player of the Year award,” said Hammond.

“But awards don’t really matter, because you just want to be playing in a winning team.

“I’ve enjoyed playing for the club, especially with the new stadium and its facilities.

“The boys and the coaching are great and it’s a good place to be.

“Promotion would be a real honour next season.”

Hammond found himself in and out of the U’s side at the beginning of last season, under former boss Geraint Williams.

But after being handed the captain’s armband, he helped lead Colchester’s charge up the table under Lambert.

Hammond added: “With the start that we had last season, we gave ourselves an uphill task.

“The gaffer has come in and everything seems to be positive.

“We’re playing better football I think now but we just fell short.

“But I think next season looks really good.”