THE disappointment clearly visible on John McGreal's face said it all as he waited to board the team coach outside St James Park, little more than a fortnight ago.

He had just seen his Colchester United side agonisingly beaten in extra-time by Exeter City in their League Two play-off semi-final, having come so close to booking a Wembley spot in the last few seconds of normal time.

McGreal's anguish was understandable, particularly given the season his U's team had and all of the hard work that had been put into it.

It would be sad if that painful defeat at Exeter turns out to be his last as Colchester boss, as now it seems increasingly likely that the 2020-21 campaign might prove to be McGreal's fourth and final one, at the JobServe Community Stadium.

McGreal is hot favourite to take over at Tranmere - and if he does make the return move to Prenton Park, it's little surprise if he is their first choice.

Indeed, his stock is pretty high at present, given the U's achievements this season.

A sixth-place finish and a run to the League Cup quarter-finals for only the second time in the club's history represented Colchester's best campaign for several years, certainly since McGreal was appointed as Kevin Keen's successor, just over four years ago.

The magnificent Carabao Cup run, which saw Colchester beat Premier League opponents Spurs and Crystal Palace before bowing out at Manchester United at Old Trafford, not only brought prestige and positivity to the club but also some welcome funds.

Having just missed out on the play-offs in each of the three preceding seasons, the U's finally made it this time around, all this despite losing talented players such as Sammie Szmodics, Kane Vincent-Young and Frankie Kent last summer and having to conduct a mini rebuild.

The aforementioned trio were all players that McGreal played a big part in helping to progress from the U's academy and flourish - and eventually sold for healthy fees.

Indeed, McGreal has had a tricky balancing act to adhere to throughout his tenure as Colchester boss; dealing with the pressure of trying to consistently get results and challenge for promotion while at the same time complying with the requirement of giving a pathway for academy players into the first team and giving them their chance at senior level.

That is a tough task but he has done that well and only this season, Kwame Poku has been the latest example of a young teenager cutting his teeth at senior level with the U's and becoming an effective performer in League Two.

In addition, McGreal has established a connection between players and fans that had been previously lost, prior to his appointment, particularly this season.

Perhaps after more than a decade at Colchester working in the academy prior to taking over as senior boss in 2016, it might be that McGreal feels now is the right time for a fresh challenge.

He has been at Colchester a long time in modern-day football terms and is currently the third longest-serving manager in the EFL.

The football horizon is currently uncertain; it is not going to be easy for any club, in the aftermath of Covid-19.

That has already been witnessed at the U's with the loss the likes of Luke Prosser, Frank Nouble, Ryan Jackson and Brandon Comley; McGreal may feel that the lure of his former club Tranmere is too strong.

McGreal, like most managers, has sometimes divided opinion among some U's supporters.

Some might argue that the U's never really quite achieved what they wanted, during his time in charge.

After all, McGreal himself had admitted promotion was the aim when he took over as head coach back in May, 2016.

But if he does depart, he will do so at a time when stability is arguably needed more than ever.

It would leave Colchester without a long-standing head coach and looking for a new boss at a difficult time.

But if McGreal does depart, he can reflect on the positive and tireless work he has undertaken during his long stint at the JobServe Community Stadium with pride.