|The Championship – Tuesday 18th March 2008|
The game is 33 minutes old and we already lead 1-0, when Henrik Pedersen nips ahead of a Colchester player to poke the ball to Fraizer Campbell. Two quaking defenders stand between him and the goal – one runs away, the other falls over as Campbell’s fleet-footed turn of direction embarrasses him. The left-footed shot from 15 yards is low, hard and accurate; the keeper stands motionless, the ball flies in, and City lead 2-0.
A flash of instinctive genius in a stadium unaccustomed to witnessing them, and indeed served up in front of a band of City supporters who’ve hardly been spoiled in this regard over the years. The goal was celebrated fervently, and Fraizer Campbell beamed at us with an endearingly impish look, and another win and another terrific moment to treasure from this remarkable young player was ours.
Saturday saw the grimmest day of this season avenged, and this was our chance to put right the wrongest wrong of last season, inna Quantum Leap stylee. Phil Brown welcomed Jay Jay Okocha and Caleb Folan back into the squad and promptly put them on benchwarming duties as the City manager quite rightly kept faith with the XI that obliterated Southampton on Saturday: Myhill; Ricketts, Turner, Clement, Dawson; Garcia, Ashbee (c), Marney, Pedersen; Windass, Campbell.
Two more City players added international interests to their CVs this week – Boaz Myhill being called up for the Welsh national side and Fraizer Campbell being invited to join the England U21s. It’s not hard to see why – as the Championship’s form team, we’re becoming harder to overlook. And as we lined up attacking a splendid midweek following from East Yorkshire, it was clear there’d be no repeats of the hideous events of November 2006.
Interestingly (or maybe not) the same referee was on duty as in our last meeting at Layer Road, Mr P Miller. He was a busy fellow in the opening minutes, as Colchester’s dismal hurt-Fraizer-Campbell-and-we-may-get-a-draw strategy was executed with great zeal, Adam Virgo being the first to give it a go. He was cautioned; Deano fired the resulting free-kick narrowly wide.
On 14 minutes came a pivotal moment – Campbell exchanged passes with Ashbee and scampered after the through-ball when Paul Ifill kicked him. No attempt at the ball, which was fully five yards away, he simply kicked his opponent. The City fans howled with anger at this blatant assault, and justice was swiftly done when Ifill was given a red card.
Surprisingly, it must be said. A caution was the bare minimum for the technical aspect of the offence: purposefully halting a promising attack. However, the deliberate and cynical nature of Ifill’s illegal intervention, and the imperative to protect the best player on the pitch from the wanton thuggery of outclassed adversaries, persuaded Mr Miller into issuing harsher sanctions. Good on him (and we’ll even overlook his mystifying caution on Fraizer a minute later, and subsequently puzzling display).
City swiftly capitalised, and Ashbee should have opened the scoring when lashing the rebound from his own saved header over the crossbar. The Tigers were in complete control however, and we finally took the lead on twenty minutes. Windass nicked the ball to the lurking Campbell, whose first time shot was blocked by home keeper Gerken – however, it fell back to Fraizer, who managed to bobble the ball past the prone netminder and into the goal. We roared in triumph.
Colchester buckled – the next ten minutes were all City as we piled men forward in search of more goals. A thrilling sight to watch your team so focussed upon attack away from home. And finally the second came, it was a wonderful goal, and we rubbed our hands in glee at the thought of handing out another serious pasting.
Whereupon, err, Colchester scored, the cheeky swines. From our dire vantage point it was impossible to discern quite what happened other than that Lisbie had hit a crisp low shot past Wales’ Number One – slack defending perhaps? But a good finish.
With half-time approaching City should have scored another, but Windass headed wastefully wide after some excellent work by the tireless Marney. Mr Miller’s interesting evening took a surreal turn when he booked Matt Heath after a clumsy foul on Garcia by another Colchester player. Perhaps unsurprisingly, perplexed looks abounded.
Colchester came close to an equaliser with a header that was cleared off the line as City wavered for the first time in the evening, but there was no further action before the break.
The Us are leaving Layer Road this summer for a new identikit stadium at Cuckoo Farm. Not a moment too soon, even though the facilities offered by Colchester United are unlikely to concern us at any point in the near future. Layer Road is not some charming old-fashioned football stadium, evocatively harking back to days gone by. It is a shit-tip. The view from all parts of the away terrace are absolutely terrible, and unless you stand at the very front it is impossible to see anything in the six yard area – yet the rake is so poor that even standing at the back means the far end is a swirl of confusion. Best of all a grand total of three toilets are provided, once you’ve battled through the throng to reach them.
Not that the rest of the ground is much better. A bank of temporary seating under a marquee offers a different but equally terrible view for away fans; the rest is a hotch-potch of standing areas, some only part-covered, and tiny seated areas. And the atmosphere is invariably dire owing to the ground’s design. It’s fair to say that few people will miss Layer Road, which was marking its final floodlit game against the Tigers.
But at least it was hosting a decent game of football, as Colchester came out for the second half determined to secure at least a point and some pride from the burning wreckage of their season. Oddly, Phil Brown appeared to have instructed his charges to adopt a more circumspect approach, which resulted in Colchester seeing plenty of possession, although with Turner and Clement looking resolute at the back they fashioned few clear openings.
Indeed, it was City who came closest to scoring when a rasping header by Michael Turner struck the underside of the bar and bounced to safety, and another chance fell our way when Pedersen fastened on a through ball and shot directly at Gerken. He parried the ball out but it fell to Ashbee, whose low shot was quite brilliantly gathered by the home keeper.
Home manager Geraint Williams, reputedly the real reason Phil Parkinson led Colchester to unprecedented, made his first switch on the hour as Izzet was brought off in favour of Anthony Wordsworth – a few minutes later, Phil Brown responded by taking off the heavy-legged Pedersen for the zippy influence of Bryan Hughes. Smart move.
The game was chugging along a little lumpily now, with Colchester lacking the class (and numbers) to break us down, while City seemed content to play on the break. A Dean Marney free-kick, competently clasped by Gerken, was a rare moment of action in the middle part of the half.
Some more substitutions were made – Vernon and Balogh replaced Platt and Duguid for them, while the mighty Caleb trotted on in place of Deano, milking the applause from the away end in that irresistibly cocky fashion of his.
And now time for us to seal it. Three minutes from the end, Dean Marney collected the ball in midfield, ten yards inside his own half. He slid a delightful pass through the static home defence that Folan latched onto, Gerken dashed out of his box just in time to watch the City striker skip merrily past him and pass the ball into the open goal from 22 yards.
Much rejoicing – job done, game over, three more points. There was still time for Richard Garcia to rattle the frame of the goal with a crashing effort, and although a fourth would have been harsh on Colchester, there was no doubting that the better team had won, and won well.
At full time, the City players came over to bask in our enthusiastic acclaim (and possibly to spot their chairman, hidden away in the seated area). We can all now sense the possibility of something very special. This victory takes us five points clear of the team in seventh – and, whisper it oh-so-quietly lest the gods hear us and punish our insolence, but we’re now only five behinds behind the automatic promotion places.
Heady days, heady times. The next game can’t come quickly enough. The ride may only just be beginning. (AD)
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