COLCHESTER United head coach John McGreal admits picking his starting line-up for their play-off semi-final against Exeter City tonight will be a difficult task.

The U’s boss has plenty of options ahead of the first leg clash at the JobServe Community Stadium, with the likes of Tom Lapslie and Paris Cowan-Hall now fully fit and available again after the three-month break between fixtures, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

McGreal said: “It’s always tough to pick a team, especially when you’ve got a fully fit squad.

“The boys had been performing to a decent level prior to the pandemic but now you’re looking at survival of the fittest.

“Everyone’s fully fit. Having 18 days of prep is not ideal, don’t get me wrong but three months ago we’d have taken it.

“We had in-house games prior to the Millwall (friendly) match (last Saturday).

“We had a couple of niggles prior to the Millwall game so we had to be mindful of the game, last weekend but it was a really good test for us.

“We’re in a privileged position with the play-offs and we want to try and maximise it.”

Frank Nouble, Luke Prosser and Ryan Jackson, who were all told in April that they would not be offered new contracts by Colchester this summer, are all in line to start tonight.

Top scorer Theo Robinson is also hoping to make the U’s starting line-up, after the EFL gave the green light for the Southend United loanee to play.

“It’s a huge boost to have Theo available,” said McGreal. “He’s our leading goalscorer.

“We’d been trying to get the deal done and we’d been waiting on the EFL for a number of weeks before we actually got it in place.

“In hindsight, those decisions could have been made a little bit earlier but he’s been up to speed and training well.”

When asked about the aforementioned players who were not offered new deals by Colchester, boss McGreal said: “Other teams in the play-offs will have players whose contracts are running out so we’re no different to other football clubs.

“We were a little bit different in that we told the players early to try and sort themselves out to give them opportunities but it’s a tough time for players.

“Those three or four players have been given an opportunity but other players in the squad have too, to go and play in a play-off game.”

Colchester have played out two draws with Exeter in League Two this season.

They drew 2-2 in their home game with the Grecians in late December, before playing out a goal-less draw with Matt Taylor’s side at St James Park in January.

McGreal added: “It’ll be tough.

“I know Matt (Taylor) particularly well and he’s done a particularly good job for Exeter and his team.

“But as much as you look at the opposition, in these one-off games it’s got to be all about what we do really.

“We have a lot of respect for Exeter and we had two tight games against them in the league.

“Will it be any different? Who knows.

"It’ll be more about who’s the fittest, who makes the least mistakes and all that type of thing.”