ANALYSIS: Colchester United take Exeter City defeat on chin and start over again
- Credit: Richard Blaxall / Colchester Uni
Colchester United’s nine-game unbeaten run in League Two came to a halt at St James Park on Saturday, as a buoyant Exeter City side, inspired by the outstanding Ollie Watkins, scored two late goals to seal a 3-0 win.
In picking up the three points, the Grecians extended their own unbeaten run to nine games, securing their fourth straight victory, and, in ninth place, are just a point off the U’s, who occupy the final play-off spot in League Two.
Much-travelled striker Reuben Reid opened the scoring for the hosts on 20 minutes, finishing well from Watkins’ pass.
David Wheeler and substitute Liam McAlinden then made the most of assists from Watkins to give the final scoreline a slightly flattering look.
Exeter have now scored 14 goals in their last four games and Colchester caught them at the wrong time at the weekend.
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After the game, U’s boss John McGreal, insisted that he was keen to reflect upon the progress made by his side in the last couple of months, rather than scrutinise this defeat in too much detail.
They are, after-all, still in the top-seven and have time to regroup now with a blank Saturday next weekend. The U’s next game is an away fixture at Blackpool, on February 4.
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Sometimes you just have to take a defeat on the chin, brush yourself down, and start all over again.
That is what Colchester United will be doing this week after relinquishing their nine-game unbeaten run at in-form Exeter City, who completed the double over their opponents, having won 3-2 in Essex, back in September.
The U’s were nowhere near as bad as the final scoreline suggested, but a lack of quality in both penalty boxes and a super solo display from Exeter’s nine-goal top-scorer Ollie Watkins took the game away from them.
Key to Colchester’s recent fine run had been the return to fitness of midfielder, Owen Garvan.
The Irishman made his first appearance of the season in the 3-0 win at Cheltenham – the game that heralded the U’s nine-game unbeaten run, and his calming influence on Saturday was sorely missed.
But it’s not as though the U’s were toothless without the former Ipswich Town and Crystal Palace man and had Brennan Dickenson or Chris Porter taken advantage of good second-half chances, with the score at 1-0, then the final outcome could have been a lot more favourable.
At the same time, the visitors will have been disappointed with their defending for the first goal, Reid finding himself unmarked on the right-hand side of the box after several of the U’s rearguard were drawn to the twinkle-toed Watkins.
The forward had taken a high ball from sponsors’ man-of-the-match, Troy Brown, down on a sixpence and then took three Colchester players out of the game, weaving in and out as he made his way from left to right.
After the opening goal, Colchester became a little disjointed and Brown missed two back-post headers in the space of a minute to double his side’s league, both attempts coming from wicked inswinging corners, first from former U’s man, Lloyd James and then, left-back Craig Woodman.
Prior to Reid’s goal, James also tested Sam Walker twice from distance, the second seeing the ball rebound out to Jack Stacey who, in an offside position, headed the ball wide.
The U’s had actually started the better, forcing four corners in the first 10 minutes, and before Reid’s goal, the game was pretty even, Dickenson’s 10th-minute free-kick curling and dipping over the wall and forcing a smart save from home goalkeeper, Christy Pym.
With Craig Slater dictating play in the midfield and Richard Brindley and Drey Wright’s pace and skill on the right causing problems, the visitors looked the more likely to score in the opening exchanges.
The latter came in for Garvan in the U’s only change and performed well, despite his pending hernia operation, which he is due to undergo today.
However, the U’s positivity in the first half diminished somewhat after Reid’s opener and the U’s were happy when the half-time whistle came going in just one-goal down.
The second half saw the U’s come out with the bit between their teeth and after Pym made early routine saves from Slater and Kurtis Guthrie, the visitors missed a golden chance to equalise.
Again, Slater was at the heart of the move, pinging a stupendous crossfield ball from right to left which was taken down exquisitely by Dickenson.
The winger took a second touch and bore down on goal but, with the goal at his mercy – albeit from a slight angle – fired high and wide over Pym’s bar from 14 yards out, the ball clearing the low terrace behind the goal and ending up in a garden on the road behind!
A few minutes later, Dickenson crafted his way into the box and saw two attempts in quick succession charged down well by Exeter’s defenders.
Then came Porter’s chance, the striker’s close-range effort being deflected over the bar by Woodman after Dickenson had played an inviting ball across the six-yard box.
As the U’s went for the equaliser, winger Tarique Fosu replaced the impressive Brindley and the game became more stretched, the Grecians taking advantage of gaps left by Colchester as they searched for an equaliser.
Exeter, Watkins aside, were lacking the same kind of craft as they had displayed in the first half though, playing a lot deeper, so when they added a second on 77 minutes, it was somewhat against the run of play.
Again Watkins was the architect, dispossessing Slater on the right and driving his way across field, before releasing David Wheeler who fired first time across Walker with his left foot.
The third goal came with just a minute of normal time to go, the U’s once again unable to cope with Watkins’ pace – the midfielder, under pressure from Tom Eastman, finding substitute McAlinden, in almost an identical position to Wheeler, who took a touch before placing the ball across Walker.
The scoreline was harsh on the U’s who, against a lesser team may have got away with a point yesterday.
However, Exeter are bang in-form, playing a brand of football that would be gushed over by Premier League pundits and, in Watkins, have a talent who is no doubt destined for bigger and better things.
“I am really proud of him because he has scored a lot of goals recently and everyone expects things of him,” said Exeter boss Paul Tisdale, on Watkins.
“He played with so much maturity to pass to someone in a better position and that says so much about him. Again, he has gone up in my estimations.”
On the U’s, he added: “They looked a good side second half and I think they will feel unfortunate to have lost the game 3-0.”