HEAD coach John McGreal says he now has the competition for places he has been “craving” since taking over at Colchester United.

Injury problems have always been a hindrance during his time at the Weston Homes Community Stadium.

Now, however, McGreal has genuine strength in depth and that was epitomised by the substitutes’ bench for Tuesday’s League Two victory at home to Coventry City.

Top-scorer Sammie Szmodics was on the bench, as was regular starter Sean Murray, while Brennan Dickenson made his long-awaited return to first-team duty after being sidelined since last April.

Other established names like Tom Lapslie and Ryan Inniss were unused against the Sky Blues, as was recent loan signing Liam Mandeville.

“I’ve said to the boys that if they get an opportunity to perform, and take it, then they’re giving me tough decisions to make,” said McGreal.

“It’s very healthy to have the likes of Sammie and Brennan coming off the bench, in addition to people like Sean and Tom.

“It means those who are starting have to look over their shoulder and perform.

“Has that helped in terms of results recently?

“Possibly so, because we’ve been craving competition since I took over and we’ve got it now.

“The transfer window has helped, in terms of making those late additions to give us extra competition.

“It means I have decisions to make and that’s good. It’s healthy.”

McGreal is waiting on the fitness of Kurtis Guthrie (ankle) and Ryan Jackson (quad) ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Gresty Road.

And despite the hosts sitting third from bottom, three points above the relegation zone, the U’s boss says there is no chance of his team taking the Railwaymen lightly.

“It’s been vitally important to get on a little run and we want to extend that, although we know it’s going to be tough against a Crewe side fighting for their lives,” said McGreal.

“They need a win to claw themselves away from the relegation zone.

“They have a philosophy in terms of the way they try and do things and they’re very similar to us, in terms of trying to bring youth through the system.

“They haven’t been getting the results but it’s a tough, tough league and we can’t afford to take Crewe lightly.

“We’ve got to go there, show them respect but try to win, because we’re in a really healthy position, with several clubs sitting only just above us.

“The boys have been putting a shift in. There have been too many draws but at least they’ve kept the points ticking along.

“They’re performing well but know they can’t afford to take their foot off the gas, because anyone can beat anyone on any given day.

“Things can happen in a heartbeat, as we know, in terms of results and injuries. Top can beat bottom and things change all the time, so I won’t get too far ahead.

“The most important thing for me is tomorrow at Crewe.”

McGreal has again sung the praises of Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe, who scored one - a penalty - and made Mika Mandron’s late winner against Coventry.

The former Maldon and Tiptree man was making his debut, having signed for the U’s in January.

“Was it a big call bringing him in?” said McGreal.

“Possibly so but we know how he’s been performing in training.

“He’s been scoring goals and that’s why I thought it was the right time.

“He’s been on his travels to try and get a career in the game – it hasn’t been for the want of trying - and we keep saying we’re a club of opportunity.

“We’ve bided our time with him and it was the right time to put him in.

“I don’t always get those decisions right but that one was right and he got his rewards.”