COLCHESTER United promotion winner Pat Baldwin says it would be ‘wonderful’ to see his former club return to League One, via the play-offs.

And the former U’s favourite believes chairman Robbie Cowling would richly deserve any success that comes the club’s way, this season.

Colchester are preparing to take on Exeter City in their League Two semi-final first leg at the JobServe Community Stadium, on Thursday evening.

Baldwin, 37, will be watching closely, having spent ten years with the U’s between 2002 and 2012 before going on to make 89 appearances for the Grecians during a three-year stint at St James Park.

The ex-Colchester centre-back, who helped the U’s secure a historic promotion to the Championship in 2006, has a soft spot for both clubs – but says his heart is telling him that it will be a U’s triumph.

Baldwin said: “It would be wonderful for Colchester to get another promotion and the people working there, especially Robbie Cowling, would really deserve it.

“He’s had a bit of criticism over the years but he’s done everything in the right way, especially with the way he has promoted management and youth from within.

“I really like the way he’s gone about things and he deserves success.

“(Colchester boss) John McGreal is also a great guy.

“The fans there haven’t had too much success to celebrate in a number of years so it would be great for them if they could do it.

“My heart instinctively says Colchester.

“Exeter are a wonderful club and we’re still in the area which is beautiful but I don’t have the history with them that I have with Colchester.

“Since I retired, I’ve got close to the old Colchester team of players on WhatsApp.”

Both legs of each of the League Two play-off semi-finals will take place behind closed doors, due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Playing such important games inside near-empty stadiums promises to be an unusual scenario for both teams and Baldwin admits both teams will have to deal with the different atmosphere.

“It’ll be a very weird situation, without a crowd,” said Baldwin, who now lives with his wife and young family in Beer, Devon.

“You get adrenalin, confidence and determination from the crowd – well I certainly did as a player.

“There’s an advantage playing in familiar surroundings but some of that comes from playing in front of a home crowd.

“Without that crowd, it’ll be difficult to get that extra ten per cent which I for one got a lot from the crowd, which really inspired me and made me a better player.

“Without the crowd being there, is it going to be too much of an advantage?

“The important thing will be the preparation the teams have done – that will be vital.

“Both teams are in a unique situation and I’d put both of them level pegging.

“You can’t take it on past form – it’ll be about who the best team is on the day.

“It’ll be about who handles the situation the best, along with who has prepared properly both mentally and physically.

“It’ll be a lottery.

“It’s been a long time since both teams played and for a player to maintain match fitness, you have to play games.”

Colchester enjoyed an impressive Carabao Cup run this season, which saw them reach the quarter-finals of the competition for only the second time in their history.

The U’s beat Spurs and Crystal Palace on their way to eventually bowing out at Manchester United and Baldwin feels those cup exploits will stand John McGreal’s side in good stead, as they head into the ‘lottery’ of the play-offs.

He added: “You try and take your experiences and use them in a positive way in any game you go into.

“You can take all of those experiences into another big game and I’m sure that will stand them in good stead.”