John McGreal and Sammie Szmodics go back a long way at Colchester United.

So it is little wonder that the U’s head coach is more than willing to shout the talented forward’s many virtues from the rooftops.

Szmodics’ stylish winner at Barnet – one that secured the U’s another important victory in League Two – was the latest impressive milestone moment in the popular youngster’s emergence.

It is hard to believe that three and a half years have elapsed since Szmodics hit a magnificent hat-trick at Bradford City to help win the Youth Alliance Cup for a Colchester under-18 side which also included Tom Lapslie and Frankie Kent and managed jointly by McGreal and Wayne Brown.

It was a performance that made people sit up and take notice and since then, Szmodics has blossomed with his skill, positivity and infectious energy.

McGreal has been a key part of that, having coached Szmodics at under-18, under-23 and now first-team level.

The U’s head coach knows full well just how integral the former Stanway School pupil can be to his side’s hopes of winning promotion back to the third tier.

Szmodics’ superb solo strike at the Hive – which he rates as the best of his career to date – took his personal goal tally for the season to six, level with team-mate Mikael Mandron.

He has already surpassed his goal total from last season and with still well over half of the campaign to go, looks on course to hit the net many more times – providing he can stay fit.

The one thing to blight Szmodics’ career so far has been the number of injuries he is suffered.

It restricted him to just 23 league and cup appearances last season and has already disrupted his involvement, this time around.

But thankfully he is now available again, which is great news for both him and Colchester United.

When home-grown midfielder Alex Gilbey left to join Wigan Athletic in the summer of 2016, Szmodics was tipped to be the next U’s academy product off the conveyor belt at Florence Park to move on to bigger things.

If he can play regularly for Colchester this season and help them achieve their goals in addition to his own personal targets, that prediction might just prove very accurate.