REPORT: Colchester 5-1 City

****WARNING****

The following text is not suitable for young children, pregnant women, anyone with a heart condition, those of a nervous disposition and any Southampton forwards who may have been expecting a difficult afternoon on Saturday. Amber Nectar accepts no liability for any consequent rage, swearing or kicking small animals.

Because this was a disgrace for the ages. A game that will forever feature whenever Tigerfolk gather to debate the most humiliating, the most inept, the most spineless, the most utterly unbearable performances they can recall. Well done, lads. You’ve achieved immortality.

City’s pre-match preparations, which had included several days in a plush southern hotel, were thrown slightly awry when Ian Ashee had to return home to be with his pregnant wife. This – and only this, let it be remembered – forced Phil Parkinson to pick his best midfielder, with the Tigers lining up at a sold-out Layer Road thus: Myhill; Ricketts, Coles, Turner, Delaney; Fagan, Marney, Welsh, Livermore, Elliott; Forster. 4-5-1. Yay.

The Tigers kicked off the game attacking the hardy souls who’d made another expensive midweek trek to the south. And we were quickly on the back foot, as the home side raced out of the blocks looking quicker, sharper, more determined than us. A series of corners were forced, although Myhill’s safe handling neutralised the majority of them. City’s ugly long ball game saw us hoof the ball at man mountain Nicky Forster’s head to allow a centre half to clear, or hoof it down the line for him to chase in order that an full-back might get the chance to clear instead. Genius.

Then, to the general amazement of everybody present, City took the lead. Delaney swung a high ball towards Fagan, whose perfectly cushioned header across goal gave Forster a two-yard tap-in – one he nearly contrived to mess up, but the ball was successfully bundled home and City led. With the benefit of hindsight, informing the aghast home fans that their cup final was not going entirely to plan was maybe not as amusing as it seemed at the time.

For two minutes later, Colchester equalised with a free header from a corner.

Déjà vu, you say? Quite. From our terrible vantage point 120 yards it was impossible to say who was at fault for Iwelumo’s ridiculously easy goal. Soon after, Forster had a chance to give City the lead once more after Fagan slid the ball through the Colchester defence, but his first touch was poor and it gave Wayne Brown the opportunity to make an excellent covering tackle.

Delaney was cautioned for a nasty foul on Greg Halford after half an hour, and this led to some severe pressure on the City goal, with crosses raining in and the Tigers completely unable to clear their lines with the witless long balls that constituted our only strategy.

However, this burst from the home side gently expired, and the half closed with neither side able to retain possession, and a scrappy half ended with the sides level 1-1 at half-time, and with absolutely no indication of what was to follow, which arguably stands out as the worst 45 minutes of the last half-dozen years.

Colchester swiftly took the lead when Iwelumo’s dive fooled referee Miller into awarding the home side a penalty. He had barged through a couple of City players, thrown himself turfwards as the result of a phantom challenge and ought to have been cautioned for simulation. However, the referee bought it, Elliott’s howls of dismay earned him a yellow card, the penalty kick was clinical and the Tigers trailed.

City’s response to this injustice was not quite what we might have hoped for. Ahem.

City fell further behind when some schoolgirl defending by the comically inept Turner, featuring a miss-kick and a clumsy tumble, allowed Cureton to breeze through the defence and calmly pass the ball past Myhill from ten yards.

Phil Parkinson’s response was to withdraw the best player on the pitch, John Welsh, and his only forward, to replace them with Nick Barmby and Ryan France. Further comment on this idiocy would be superfluous.

Barmby’s first contribution was to miss a sitter with his head after a good cross by Ricketts – and moments later a ghastly evening got even worse for the enraged City fans in front of whom this disaster was unfolding. After more pitiful defending by the Tigers’ hopeless defensive duo, Duguid was given a clear shooting chance that was expertly repelled by Myhill. However, with the defence busy picking their arses rather than doing their jobs, he squared it and the unmarked – no, really! – Iwelumo completed his hat-trick was a straightforward finish.

This prompted serious cries of derision from the City fans, as the home support crowed with understandable delight. They had further chances to score, too many to relate with sinking into even deeper depression, before Iwelumo finally bagged his fourth goal in circumstances that would shame a pub team. Turner cleared a Watson shot off the line after more non-defending same the home side cleave through us; Elokobi was the next to try, saved brilliantly by Myhill; it finally fell to Iwelumo, who can’t have been entirely shocked to find himself entirely unmarked, and he slotted home for Colchester’s fifth. Shabby, miserable, pitiful defending.

Colchester effectively declared their innings closed at this point, although if truth be told City’s sheer wretchedness meant they could easily have scored two or three more in the final ten minutes had their really wanted to. The referee played four minutes of injury time before curtailing the nightmare. The City players could barely bring themselves to look at their supporters, as a torrent of scorn fell from the incandescent away terrace. Phil Parkinson briefly plucked up the nerve to very briefly applaud, but he too quickly slunk off down the tunnel in utter, total disgrace.

It is truly impossible to articulate just what a horrific surrender this was. Words cannot do it justice. Not even sweary ones. Under absolutely no circumstances should 1-1 against Colchester ever become 1-5. However, it was made to happen by a heartbreakingly supine display in second half.

Let us try to understand just how this happened. Firstly, Coles and Turner. They are the Hocking and Whitworth of their day. They look quite good and in theory they should make a sound defensive pairing. Except neither of them can defend. And so free headers are donated as the marking is insufficiently rigorous, shots are allowed, runs are not halted – neither of them can do their jobs properly.

The one man who can play at centre-half, Damien Delaney, is therefore played in every position except centre-half. He has lined up on the wing, in midfield, at full-back, and while he brings commendable application to each of the assignments, he is wasted by a manager who refuses to play him in his best position.

The midfield – again, in theory, this ought to work quite well. Except that the best midfielder at the club, John Welsh, is frequently overlooked. It is difficult to imagine why this is. Livermore is solid enough, Marney is showing signs that he might not be a complete waste of money, but overall it just fails to work, and is frequently bypassed by huge booming hoofs from the back.

Fagan on the wing is infuriatingly – sporadically brilliant, enduringly frustrating, and to his eternal shame, he didn’t want to know last night. Wasn’t bothered. Unacceptable.

Stuart Elliott gave it a go, but his game is predictable and not difficult to neutralise. He deserves little blame, but earns no credit. As for the situation up front, Forster is laughably unsuited to the task being demanded of him. He is no more a target man than Jon Parkin is a ballerina, yet the sheer pig-headedness of Phil Parkinson decrees that the formation takes precedence over the personnel available, and so we insist in relentlessly booting the ball at the head of a small player. It’s stupid, it’s unoriginal – one wonders if opposing managers have wondered if an elaborate double bluff is about to be performed on them when they see us lining up 4-5-1 with Forster as the 1, though they soon realise that yes, we really are that stupid.

I could go on. So I will.

It is becoming rapidly apparent that all is very far from well. The players cannot appreciate this strategy, if we can dignify this brainless enterprise with such a term. The supporters certainly don’t. It installs a negative mindset into the team, and they respond with cowardly displays such as the one at Layer Road. And Burnley. And….etc.

One should stop just short of demanding that Parkinson goes, although no amount of criticism could be considered excessive after a catastrophe that will forever be known simply as “Colchester”. Worryingly, the first attempt at starting a “Parky Out” chant was made last night, and while it didn’t catch on at the time, the hostility unleashed at the final whistle was not pretty.

His detractors are emboldened, while his remaining advocates simply have nothing to justify their support any longer. If he was to offer his resignation this week, it might allow him to escape with a shred of dignity and give us enough time to escape the burning wreckage of 2006/7. Saturday offers him a final opportunity to prove that he is up to it. Defeat to Southampton, and it may become a case of jump or be pushed. He has a lot to think about in the next few days. And so does Adam Pearson.