The 2013–14 season is Colchester United's sixth consecutive season in the third tier of English football following survival from relegation to League Two on the final day of the 2012–13 season. It will also be manager Joe Dunne's first full season in charge of the club after taking over from John Ward in September 2012. Dunne led his side to a 16th position league finish, though it took until the penultimate game of the season to secure their League One status for another season.
After narrowly avoiding relegation to League Two on the final day of the 2012–13 season, manager Joe Dunne began strengthening the team early in pre-season by signing former loanee Craig Eastmond from Arsenal. Eastmond had featured for Colchester in the previous season before injury cut his stint short, but returned to the Community Stadium following the expiration of his contract with the Gunners, signing a two-year deal. Dunne had already allowed Matt Heath and Jackson Ramm leave the club after their contracts with the club had expired. The development squad was bolstered first by the signing of Milton Keynes Dons youth-team product Mason Spence and the news that Freddie Ladapo had signed a new one-year contract to remain at the club. Goalkeeper and former youth-team player Mark Cousins also extended his stay with the club, penning a new one-year contract on 14 June.
Dunne took his players to Ireland for a pre-season training camp in preparation for the new season as long-serving local-lad John White decided to bring an end to his nine-year stay with Colchester after a reduced-salary contract offer was rejected by White. However, the club was boosted by news that the previous season's joint top-scorer Jabo Ibehre had agreed to a new two-year contract extension, and flew out to Dublin to join his fellow squad members for the training camp.
The club signed another loanee from the 2012–13 season in the shape of Sanchez Watt on 28 June, signing a two-year contract with the U's from Arsenal. The club signed another player to boost the development squad with 18-year-old midfielder Conor Hubble joining from Queens Park Rangers on 1 July.
The development squad opened the pre-season friendly schedule with a 2–0 win against Hadleigh United on 6 July, with goals provided by triallists Anthony Cook and Alex Yearwood in either half. The first-team faced Heybridge Swifts on 10 July, where the U's fell behind mid-way through the first half with a goal from Ben Newson, before Craig Eastmond was stretchered off following a horror tackle from Ryan Doyle, leaving the Colchester player on crutches and requiring an X-ray. The U's dragged themselves back into the game with goals from John-Joe O'Toole just before the hour mark, with the assist provided by Drey Wright, who then turned scorer with 18 minutes remaining to provide a 2–1 result.
Prior to Colchester's home friendly with West Ham United on 16 July, Ghanaian defender Daniel Pappoe signed on a six-month loan from Chelsea having played a part in the teams previous two friendly matches. The U's were defeated 2–1 by West Ham with goals from Joe Cole following a mistake from Colchester goalkeeper Cousins, and James Collins to give the Hammers a two-goal lead, with Ibehre getting a consolation goal from a Tosin Olufemi cross with the final kick of the game.
The U's faced local rivals Ipswich Town in their next friendly, but were comprehensively beaten 3–0 by a clinical Town side featuring former Colchester players Dean Gerken and Anthony Wordsworth. Wordsworth set up Luke Chambers from a cross for the first goal, heading the ball home unmarked. Five minutes later, Ipswich doubled their lead through David McGoldrick and a Daryl Murphypenalty rounded off the scoring with 16 minutes remaining. While the home fixture was taking place, a Colchester United XI travelled to Bury Town in another friendly, and after going down 1–0 to an Anthony Roulston goal, the U's got back into the game with goals from Szmodics and Hubble to win 2–1.
After a long protracted transfer saga, John-Joe O'Toole finally sealed a switch to Bristol Rovers where he had spent a period on loan during the 2012–13 season, signing a three-year deal for an undisclosed fee on 24 July. The same evening, the U's travelled to Histon for another friendly test, with the club triumphing 1–0 over the Conference North side, David Wright getting to goal two minutes after the interval. On 26 July, Ryan Dickson, who had been on trial with the club, signed a one-year contract following his Southampton release, along with starlet Drey Wright signing a new three-year deal. The club followed this up with simultaneous friendlies against Maldon & Tiptree and Needham Market. The game with Maldon & Tiptree resulted in a 2–1 victory, with Pappoe scoring in the 15th minute, before an equaliser was scored for the home team by Leon McKenzie, but Freddie Sears secured the game with a solo effort on 67 minutes. The U's also secured a 3–0 win at Needham Market with goals courtesy of Bean, Massey and Morrison.
The U's kicked off the new season with a trip to Priestfield to face Gillingham on 3 August. Ryan Dickson made his debut as Eastmond and Walker both made their second debuts for the club. In the game, Colchester snatched a 1–0 win courtesy of an 88th minute goal as substitutes Andy Bond and Drey Wright combined to secure the victory. Following a disappointing League Cup thrashing at home by Peterborough United earlier in the week, United bounced back to record a second successive 1–0 League One victory by defeating former-assistant manager Micky Adams' Port Vale, Gavin Massey grabbed the decisive goal. The U's next outing was a trip to Bramall Lane to take on Sheffield United, a fixture in which they were thrashed 3–0 last season. Colchester had a better start, taking the lead from a counter-attack through Freddie Sears after 25 minutes, beating George Long with a low shot. However, the Blades equalised on the stroke of half-time when Sam Walker allowed a Harry Maguire shot to slip through his hands, levelling the score at 1–1. Walker made a string of impressive saves in the second-half to retain United's unbeaten start to the league season. In the Friday night fixture against struggling Carlisle United on 23 August, Colchester fell behind after just four minutes to a Matty Robson goal as the Cumbrians pushed for their first points of the season. Freddie Sears scored his second goal in as many games in the second half to finish 1–1 in a game which saw Tosin Olufemi receive his first start in the absence of Ryan Dickson. On the final day of August, Colchester succumbed to their first league defeat of the season at so-far unbeaten surprise leaders Leyton Orient as they went down 2–1 at home. Goals came from three players who had played for either club; ex-Colchester star Kevin Lisbie scored the winner after former-U's loanee Dave Mooney had opened the scoring in the 13th minute. Former Orient player Ibehre scored the only goal for United to level the scores at 1–1 after 35 minutes of play. The win gave the O's their first victory at Colchester since 1951.
September began with long-serving skipper Kemal Izzet ending his 12-year stay with the club. Having failed to make a first-team appearance in the first month of the season, both club and the player decided to mutually end Izzet's contract in order for him to play regular football. With a disastrous Football League Trophy defeat earlier in the week behind them, where a number of key players suffered injuries and Magnus Okuonghae suspended, Colchester went into their match against Coventry City with numerous changes having to be made. The game was played at Northampton Town'sSixfields Stadium owing to City's financial struggles and dispute over unpaid rent between Ricoh Arena owner's Coventry City Council and the club's owners SISU, as the U's suffered a 2–0 defeat. Boss Dunne said he had "no complaints" with the result, considering the situation whereby only nine players were available for training on the Thursday prior to the game.
In light of the injury crisis, Dunne brought in two loanees in time for the following weekend's clash with Bradford City, wingerJeffrey Monakana from Preston North End and full-backLuke Garbutt from Everton, covering Ryan Dickson during his illness. The U's went one goal behind to Bradford after 15 minutes to a Nahki Wells goal, but new signing Monakana pulled a goal back to level the scores on 28 minutes. Ibehre scored his third goal in all competitions four minutes later to take Colchester in to the half-time 2–1 up. However, Wells scored again on 53 minutes for Phil Parkinson's men to leave a final score of 2–2. Daniel Pappoe came on for Alex Gilbey after 86 minutes for his professional debut, but just four minutes later, he was sent off for a tackle on former-Colchester player Mark Yeates. Further loan support was brought in to following Pappoe's red card, with Queens Park Rangers' Northern Ireland under-21 defender Jamie Sendles-White and Bradford City's Matt Taylor drafted in on month-long deals.Crawley Town were the next opponents at the Community Stadium on 21 September, as Sears opened the scoring after six minutes. Emile Sinclair pulled a goal back for the visitors just after the half-hour mark to draw the game 1–1. The match also saw the debut for summer recruit Conor Hubble, making his professional debut as a substitute for winger Monakana. Additionally, Matt Taylor made his first start for the club after his loan switch from Bradford, and Freddie Ladapo made his first appearance of the season following his loan at Woking, coming on for Sears after 80 minutes. Taylor scored on his second appearance for the U's in their 1–1 draw with Bristol City at Ashton Gate on 28 September, a game which also saw the debut for another youth player and academy product Sammie Szmodics who came on as a late substitute for Craig Eastmond. The draw however left Colchester without a win in six.
With the U's still struggling with injuries and only twelve core senior players available to Dunne, the club hosted promotion-favourites Wolverhampton Wanderers at the Community Stadium on 5 October, a game which once again featured a number of emergency loanees and youth-team products. Sammie Szmodics featured for the second successive game as Colchester were defeated 3–0 in front of a 7,000-strong crowd. The next game came at home to Walsall on 12 October. The match started brightly, with Freddie Sears netting his fourth of the season with only seven minutes on the clock, but Colchester were pegged back deep into injury time. Walsall scored a free kick courtesy of Andy Taylor with six minutes of added time already passed to level the match at 1–1. A double-header of away games followed against Brentford and Shrewsbury Town. After taking the lead against Brentford on 19 October with Magnus Okuonghae's first goal of the season, the U's conceded three goals in ten second-half minutes. Following the 3–1 defeat on the Saturday, the U's travelled to Shrewsbury on 22 October, securing a 1–1 tie with Marcus Bean's first goal for the club having fallen behind in the opening stages of the game. The match also saw the debuts of newly signed West Ham loanee Elliot Lee and academy product Macauley Bonne.
Birthday boy and home debutant Bonne rescued the U's from their eleven-game winless run with his first-ever professional goal. United beat Peterborough 1–0 with Bonne scoring a header eight minutes after coming on as a substitute for Clinton Morrison.
Rotherham United hosted Colchester on 2 November as the U's looked to build on their victory over Peterborough the previous weekend. It didn't take long for them to open the scoring, with in-form Marcus Bean scoring a header after seven minutes. However, the Millers hit straight back with a Matt Tubbs goal two minutes later. They then took the lead through Kieran Agard on 22 minutes. However, deep into injury time in the second half, Elliot Lee scored an equalising goal, his first in professional football when his header was judged to have crossed the line by the assistant referee. The U's next league game came at home to Swindon Town, who were suffering an injury crisis of their own as several of Colchester's previously injured players returned to action. However, they went down 2–1 with Magnus Okuonghae scoring a consolation midway through the second half to leave Colchester with just one win in 16 games in all competitions. Following the defeat, the U's could only manage just one shot on target against Preston on 23 November, but they did scrape a 1–1 draw from the game in which North End attempted 26 shots. Luke Garbutt scored his first league goal and second for the club to secure the point.
Colchester achieved their first win of the month on 26 November as they deservedly beat MK Dons 3–1 at home, with goals supplied by Craig Eastmond - his first of the campaign, Jabo Ibehre and Macauley Bonne registering another goal from the bench. The final game of the month on 30 November saw the U's travel north to play Tranmere Rovers. Two goals from Ryan Lowe secured a win for Tranmere, with Clinton Morrison registering his first goal of the season in stoppage time.
With a two-week break after the Tranmere defeat behind them, Dunne's team took on Notts County on 14 December. County were bottom of the league at the time, and having played in the FA Cup the previous weekend, also had one weeks less preparation time that the U's. They scored two goals in either half as they trounced Colchester 4–0 at home. Dunne missed the post-match interview for the first time as he remained in the dressing room to address his players, with number two Mark Kinsella speaking to the media who described the performance as "unacceptable". In the wake of the heavy defeat to County, Colchester travelled to another struggling team on 21 December to face Oldham Athletic. They achieved their first away victory since the opening day win against Gillingham, winning 2–0 courtesy of an own goal from Latics defender Ellis Plummer after eight minutes, and then Jabo Ibehre tapped in his fifth of the season after a lay-off from Dominic Vose.
On Boxing Day, Dunne enjoyed his biggest win as Colchester manager as the U's defeated Stevenage 4–0 at home. Goals from West Ham loanee Blair Turgott, Jabo Ibehre and Craig Eastmond gave Colchester an unassailable 3–0 lead within the first half hour, with Eastmond adding a second in the second half courtesy of an assist from Sanchez Watt, who was making his first appearance since August after a long-term injury. The final game of the year on 29 December was against Crewe Alexandra, who were at the time bottom of League One. After taking the lead through a deflected Luke Garbutt free kick, Alex pulled two goals back in three second half minutes to consign Colchester to a 2–1 home defeat.
The U's started the new year with a trip to Stadium mk to face Milton Keynes Dons. The game ended in a stalemate, with Colchester keeper Sam Walker making a string of saves to aid the club to one point. After releasing Andy Bond from his contract on 8 January, Dunne tied Dominic Vose to a contract that would last until the end of the season, having been on a rolling contract since joining the club in November 2013. The U's followed this news up with a convincing 3–0 win over Gillingham, registering 24 shots and 14 on target. Sanchez Watt scored his first goal of the season on 50 minutes to open the scoring, with Clinton Morrison netting his second of the season and Freddie Sears also managed to get on the scoresheet marking his return from injury with a goal deep in injury time.
Having already tied Dominic Vose to a permanent contract, the U's announced on 16 January that Alex Gilbey had also signed a contract extension, keeping him at the club until summer 2016. This accompanied news that Joe Dunne had additionally offered Colchester's on-loan Chelsea goalkeeper Sam Walker a permanent deal. In the club's next game, Watt followed up his goal in the last match with a first-half brace against Carlisle at Brunton Park, separated by a Magnus Okuonghae own goal. Marcus Bean scored Colchester's third in the second half, with Max Ehmer also netting an own goal to make the score 4–1, before Ehmer redeemed himself with a late goal to finalise the scoring at 4–2. The win moved the U's back into the top-half of the League One table. Goalkeeper Sam Walker played the final game of his second loan spell with the club in the Carlisle win. Two days after the victory, he signed permanently on an 18-month contract from Chelsea. The January transfer window also saw the departure of youth team product Freddie Ladapo, who left for pastures new with Conference club Kidderminster. Meanwhile, Dunne strengthened his back-line by signing Leicester City under-21 captain Alie Sesay on loan until the end of the season to provide cover for Magnus Okuonghae and Tom Eastman.
After three consecutive postponed games due to waterlogged pitches following heavy rain, the U's played their first game for 24 days as they visited Port Vale. The tie ended in a 2–0 defeat for Colchester. Three days later, Colchester travelled to Swindon in a controversially rearranged fixture that had been brought forward 24 hours by the Football League, a move which Joe Dunne was unhappy with. As a result of the game being moved from a Saturday afternoon to Friday night, just 96 Colchester United supporters made the journey to Swindon. The game required a pitch inspection less than one hour prior to kick-off owing to heavy rain, but the game went ahead as the 10-man U's held on for a 0–0 draw after Sanchez Watt was sent off on his birthday. The U's then faced their first home game since 11 January on 22 February, hosting Preston North End at the Community Stadium. Having fallen behind in the first-half, Colchester pulled a goal back with Ibehre's sixth league goal of the campaign, but an own goal from captain Brian Wilson in the final ten minutes of the match gifted a 2–1 win to Preston. The winless run continued when hosting Sheffield United, the U's fell to a 1–0 defeat after conceding a late penalty.
March continued in the same fashion as February - another defeat on the road at league leaders Leyton Orient. The U's had fallen behind to a Dave Mooney goal, until Marcus Bean levelled the scores in the second half with his fourth goal of the season, but then Moses Odubajo scored an 83rd minute winner for the O's. Returning from suspension, Sanchez Watt had a goal disallowed and hit the bar in the club's home tie with Rotherham United on 4 March, a game which the U's earned their first point in three games against the promotion-chasing Millers with a 0–0 draw. Colchester then secured their first win in six games with a 2–1 home victory against Coventry City on 8 March. Freddie Sears opened the scoring after five minutes with his sixth goal of the campaign, and Gavin Massey doubled the U's advantage mid-way through the first half for his second goal of 2013–14. Coventry pulled a goal back through Callum Wilson just before half-time, which was his third goal of the season against Colchester having scored a brace in reverse fixture. However, the U's held on the push them back up the table into 15th position. Phil Parkinson brought his Bradford City side to the Community Stadium on 11 March and secured a 2–0 win against the U's. Another defeat followed at the hands of Crawley Town on 15 March with a 1–0 away reverse, before the U's hosted fellow strugglers Shrewsbury on 18 March, beating them by 1–0 by virtue of Jabo Ibehre's seventh league goal of the campaign. Colchester came from two goals behind to earn a 2–2 draw against Bristol City on 22 March, with Gavin Massey bundling home a ball from Marcus Bean and Freddie Sears scoring his seventh goal of the season. The team travelled to Wolverhampton on 25 March to face the league leaders Wolves at Molineux. The U's were 3–0 down at half-time, but a spirited fight back saw the deficit reduced to just one goal, with thanks to debut goals for Alex Gilbey and David Wright. However, it was not to be as Nouha Dicko rounded goalkeeper Sam Walker deep into second-half injury time to finalise the 4–2 win for Wanderers. The final game in March saw the U's make the journey to Nottingham to face League One's bottom club Notts County. An early goal put Colchester on the back foot once again, before the lead was doubled by the home side just before half-time to consign the U's to their fourth consecutive away defeat and only three points above the drop zone.
April commenced with yet another defeat, this time away to promotion-hopefuls Peterborough United. A goal either side of half-time secured a 2–0 win for the Posh as Colchester's attack once again faltered, registering no shots on target. A fourth consecutive loss came at the hands of relegation-rivals Tranmere Rovers at the Community Stadium on 5 April, who were forced to wear Colchester's gold away kit after the match referee deemed Tranmere's sky blue away strip a clash with the home sides kit. The U's lost 2–1 despite levelling just before the break through Freddie Sears as the result left the club two places above the relegation zone through goal difference alone. With the U's now firmly drawn into a relegation for the second successive season, it was vital that they won their next match against the league's bottom club Stevenage on 12 April. After falling behind in the 11th minute to a Michael Doughty goal, Colchester put three goals past goalkeeper Chris Day to lead 3–1 by the 73rd minute; Freddie Sears scoring on the stroke of half-time and in the 73rd minute, separated by a Jabo Ibehre goal in the 50th. Stevenage ensured a tense finish to the match with Luke Freeman grabbing a goal in the 89th minute before they had winger Filipe Morais red-carded for fighting in stoppage time. The win allowed Colchester a gap of three points to the relegation zone with only four games to play before the end of the season. The Easter weekend saw Colchester face two fellow relegation-threatened sides across the weekend by hosting Oldham on Good Friday and travelling to Crewe on Easter Monday. Despite a dominant display from the U's against Oldham, they could not find the back of the net as the Latics snatched a 1–0 win to move them clear of the relegation zone and deepen Colchester's concerns. The same side that started against Oldham were sent out to take on Crewe as each side drew a blank in a 0–0 draw on 21 April, leaving both clubs just a single point above the relegation places with only two games remaining. Colchester effectively sealed their League One status for next season on 26 April by beating already-promoted Brentford 4–1 at the Community Stadium. The U's went 3–0 within 41 minutes with goals from Marcus Bean, Alex Wynter and Freddie Sears from the penalty spot. Brentford pulled a goal back just before half-time, but Sears secured the win in the second half. More action followed as Alex Gilbey brought down Bees midfielder Alan Judge in the penalty area. Judge stepped up to take the spot kick but his shot was saved by Sam Walker. The result meant that Colchester were not mathematically safe, but their goal difference to teams around them meant that only a large defeat for United the following week at Walsall and high scores for opposing teams would spell relegation to League Two.
For their final game of the season, the U's travelled to Walsall with Clinton Morrison and Karl Duguid set to play their final games for the club. Colchester secured a 1–0 win when Walsall defender James Chambers' attempted clearance struck Craig Eastmond and flew into the net. The win meant that Colchester ended the season in 16th position in League One.
For the third consecutive season, Colchester crashed out of the League Cup in the first round, and on this occasion, the U's were demolished 5–1 by Peterborough United at the Community Stadium on 6 August. Peterborough went in at half-time with a 1–0 lead, but Ibehre scored his first goal of the season a couple of minutes after the break to level the scores. However, Peterborough ran riot with four goals in the space of 21 minutes, sending Colchester to an early League Cup exit.
Once again, Colchester exited a cup competition in the first round with a 4–1 belting by Dagenham & Redbridge. The U's opened the scoring in the 38th minute with a free kick from newly appointed captain Brian Wilson. However, United endured a disastrous second half as Magnus Okuonghae was sent off for a second bookable offence in the 52nd minute, as former-Colchester player Medy Elito scored an equaliser one minute later. Dagenham goals in the 64th, 78th and 85th minutes ensured a second cup thrashing of the season for the U's.
Colchester ensured they exited all cup competitions in the first round with a home defeat to Sheffield United on 9 November in the FA Cup. The Blades had a two-goal advantage after twelve minutes following some poor defensive play, but a revival following half-time ensued, with Macauley Bonne capping his first professional start with a goal three minutes after the interval. Everton loanee Luke Garbutt scored from 25 yards to level the scores on 64 minutes, but a contentious penalty decision against Magnus Okuonghae for handball allowed Chris Porter to seal the game for Sheffield.
Updated to games played on 3 May 2014.
Source: BBC Sport
Rules for classification: 1) points; 2) goal difference; 3) number of goals scored † Coventry City deducted 10 points for exiting administration without a CVA (C) = Champion; (R) = Relegated; (P) = Promoted; (E) = Eliminated; (O) = Play-off winner; (A) = Advances to a further round.