This month Doncaster Rovers will face three of the top five sides in League One: Preston, Swindon and MK Dons.
Throw in potentially awkward trips to Gillingham and Coventry, and a home clash with a Peterborough team showing early signs of new manager syndrome, and Rovers’ play-off credentials are about to get a serious examination.
With Bradford City and Sheffield United next to follow, over Easter, the next five weeks are likely to make or break Rovers’ bid to extend their season beyond the regular 46 games.
So to head to Deepdale tomorrow night on the back of a confidence-boosting win was imperative following back-to-back defeats which somewhat stunted Doncaster’s post-Christmas push for the play-offs. Equally important, after shipping six goals in those defeats to Port Vale and Bristol City, was a clean sheet.
Rovers did both, in business-like rather than brilliant fashion. They were much the better team but it might have been different had Chris Porter not blazed his early penalty horribly wide.
At 1-0, once Enda Stevens of all people had broken the deadlock with his first goal for the club, you feared too that Rovers’ wastefulness in front of goal might come back to haunt them. Against a better team it might have done, but Colchester were not that team.
Rovers are in for some considerably tougher games over the coming weeks than they got against a limited United outfit, whose biggest threat was their marauding right back Sean Clohessy.
But the most positive aspect from a Doncaster perspective was the way they dug in and got the job done in the sort of home assignment that might have tripped them up earlier in the season.
Rovers came within inches of making the perfect start when Andy Butler headed Richie Wellens’ corner onto the post in just the third minute.
But that all-important first goal looked set to go the visitors when Reece Wabara was adjudged to have pushed Porter in the box and referee Peter Bankes pointed to the spot – only for Porter to pick himself up and shank his kick horribly wide of the right hand post.
Abdul Razak, something of a curve ball selection from Paul Dickov in a narrow diamond midfield, then went close to breaking the deadlock when he connected with Dean Furman’s cross but his header clipped the bar and went over.
Rovers looked a tad disjointed, and their lack of wingmen allowed Clohessy to get forward and deliver a string of dangerous centres.
But while Razak attempted to feel his way into the team and Curtis Main, so lively off the bench in recent games, struggled to get into the game, one thing was becoming more and more noticeable – midfield general Wellens was starting to run the show.
Wellens’ form has been something of a hot topic among fans this season. But without being at his vintage best on Saturday he orchestrated most of Rovers’ best moments and provided a platform for the win.
After Elliott Hewitt broke and curled an effort just wide for Colchester, it was Wellens’ cross to the back post which came close to unlocking Colchester’s jittery back-line. There it was met by Butler and Dean Furman should perhaps have done better from close range, instead ballooning his effort over the bar.
Doncaster did not have to wait too much longer for a goal, however, as they continued to patiently pass and probe, Wellens knitting things together.
The ever-willing Nathan Tyson got free down the left and when his cross was not dealt with properly Stevens was in the right place at the right time to hammer home the loose ball.
If in the first half Rovers had been a little unconvincing, the second half was a different story as they controlled the game for long periods. Their problem was finding that killer second goal.
Stevens, whose excellent defensive header from underneath his own bar had moments earlier kept his team in front, sent over a teasing cross that narrowly evaded Main and then Tyson at the back post.
And when Wellens rolled another inviting ball across the six-yard box, only for it to agonisingly miss out the front two again, there was a fear that Colchester might make Rovers pay for their hesitancy in front of goal.
That moment nearly arrived when Porter stooped to head another Clohessy cross wide when he should have hit the target.
Rovers should have doubled their lead midway through the second period when Furman broke quickly and Tyson picked out Main whose tame effort was comfortably saved by Sam Walker.
However, the home side eventually put the game to bed in the closing stages when Furman was felled by Alex Wynter in the box and Tyson showed Porter how it is done from the spot, drilling home emphatically for his tenth goal of the season.
Rovers could eventually breathe easier and reflect on a job well done. They know full well though there are bigger tests to come, starting at Deepdale tomorrow night.