COLCHESTER United summed up the worrying world of lower league football in April when they released four first-team players in June despite occupying a play-off spot.

Financial constrictions during the pandemic left the Essex club with little choice but to tell Brandon Comley, Luke Prosser, Frank Nouble and Ryan Jackson they would not be getting new contracts.

“The club has a proud record of always paying its players in full and on time,” said chairman Robbie Cowling. “We achieve this because I will never sign a contract if I can’t commit to fulfilling it. I just won’t gamble with other people’s livelihoods or with the club.”

Just a couple of months later, Operation Restart revived the play-offs and Colchester found themselves tackling Exeter City in a two-legged semi-final.

Despite Cohen Bramall scoring the only goal of the first game, Exeter were too strong in the return and won 3-2 on aggregate.

John McGreal, who at that point had been in charge for four years, was then dismissed by the U’s – who then promoted his assistant, Steve Ball, to the top job.

While Colchester have clearly started to cut their cloth accordingly, the club hope that investment in their youth system will now start to bear fruit.

Last season’s breakout hit was attacking midfielder Kwame Poku, a player Wanderers will have to watch carefully if they are to get anything from their first-ever trip to the JobServe Community Stadium.

At the back, summer arrival Tommy Smith adds some much-needed experience. The former Ipswich Town man – a New Zealand international – is a consistent customer and somewhat of a coup for the U’s.

Few tip Colchester to repeat last season’s top seven finish but much could depend on how quickly their crop of young talent matures.

Speaking before a credible 0-0 draw at Bradford City last weekend, Ball said he was banking on clubs under-estimating his own team.

"Obviously this season, with what's gone on and everything, Bradford will see players who have left our club from last season, no doubt.

"But I really hope teams do approach us like that because I know that on our day, we're more than a match."

The Bolton News:

Man in form: Cohen Bramall – One of the most highly-rated full-backs in the lower leagues, who came through the ranks at Arsenal before moving to Colchester last summer.

Last time we met: May 1988, and Phil Neal’s side needed a win to give them a shot of automatic promotion on the last day of the season at Wrexham. They did it in style – John Thomas, Robbie Savage, Jeff Chandler and Mark Came all scoring in a 4-0 romp at Burnden Park, avenging a 3-0 defeat on the club’s first trip to Layer Road the previous December.

Stat of the day: Colchester United and Northampton Town scored the most goals from set pieces in League Two last season, with 17.

On the opening day of this season only Walsall (43.4) had less possession (43.8) than Colchester United did in their goalless draw at Bradford City.