Away point is not enough for U's

Hull City 1 Colchester United 1UNDER normal circumstances, a draw at a jam-packed KC Stadium, with the Tigers faithful baying for blood, would be considered a terrific result.

By Carl Marston

Hull City 1 Colchester United 1

UNDER normal circumstances, a draw at a jam-packed KC Stadium, with the Tigers faithful baying for blood, would be considered a terrific result.

But not on Saturday. Colchester United still have an outside chance of scraping into the Championship play-offs, which is why they were disappointed to let two points slip through their grasp.

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Hull's confidence was brittle, despite the luxury of taking the lead through Nicky Forster's precise finish in the 24th minute. You could sense the tension, both on and off the pitch amongst the City players and supporters.

The relegation-haunted Tigers were there for the taking. United dominated for large chunks, earned 14 corners and peppered the target with headers and shots from all angles.

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Jamie Cureton finally fired the U's level, with his 23rd goal of the season on 63 minutes, and the visitors looked the only team capable of manufacturing a winner during the final quarter of the game.

Cureton is now top of the goal-scoring charts in the Championship (in all competitions), but on another day he could have walked away with a hat-trick and the match-ball. Those are the sort of standards he has set for himself - the 31-year-old has notched eight goals in his last five fixtures.

Merely to be mentioned as one of the play-off contenders, with three weekends remaining, is a staggering achievement for Geraint Williams' men.

Nothing much changed after Saturday's round of matches. Rivals Wolves, Cardiff and Stoke all drew, while Southampton lost at Birmingham. The one benefactor was Preston, who ended their miserable run of results with a 4-0 victory at mid-table Coventry.

The U's therefore remain four points adrift of the top six, with three games left. They are certainly in the shake-up, and next Saturday there is a mouth-watering home game against leaders Sunderland.

When the fixtures were published last summer, it was assumed by most that the U's would be scrambling for points at the back-end of the season in a desperate bid to avoid relegation. Well, that prime target was achieved in February.

There is still so much to play for. Three straight wins - a daunting task - would probably be enough to gate-crash the play-offs, but there's also the “lesser” goals of finishing in the top half-of-the-table, or better still the top 10 or higher.

Hull have very different concerns. They began the day two points clear of the relegation zone, but now only a better goal difference is keeping them away out of the bottom three. Furthermore, their next two games are away at promotion candidates Stoke and Cardiff.

Forster gave them hope with his fifth league goal of the season, steering home skipper Ian Ashbee's low cross from the edge of the six-yard box. The former Ipswich striker also scored in Hull's 5-1 defeat at Layer Road last November.

But the hosts rarely threatened again. In fact, they should have been pegged back by Cureton on the half-hour mark. The U's leading scorer latched onto Chris Iwelumo's flick-on, from Pat Baldwin's through ball but he screwed his shot wide of the target with just keeper Boaz Myhill to beat.

Iwelumo was celebrating his 100th senior appearance in a U's shirt, and he nearly marked the occasion with an equaliser just before the break. Skipper Karl Duguid worked wonders to lift the ball over a defender and square across the face of goal where Iwelumo was only inches away from diverting into an empty net.

Still the danger was not over. Livewire Hogan Ephraim, who gave Hull's defence some problems with his snaking runs, floated over a cross for Johnnie Jackson to lift a shot over the top.

Cureton was a brooding figure in the dressing room at half-time, unhappy not to have scored and he was left further frustrated by another squandered chance in the 50th minute. He ballooned a shot over the bar following Duguid's excellent cross.

However, Cureton kept persevering and the equaliser was just around the corner.

He pounced onto Iwelumo's lay-off and retained possession to aim an angled drive past Myhill and into the far corner of the net.

It was then just a question of whether the Essex club could net a winner.

Substitute Kevin McLeod nearly obliged, letting fly with a 30-yarder that Myhill was at full-stretch to palm away.

Cureton squeezed a late shot agonisingly wide of goal, so it was Hull fans who were the most relieved to hear the final whistle - at least until they heard the other results, and wins for lowly rivals Barnsley and Leeds.

Nothing much has changed. Hull still need points to stay up; Colchester are still in the play-off hunt.

The excitement continues.

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