Back to Layer Road at last for U's

COLCHESTER United will be glad to return to their humble home at Layer Road after two fruitless trips to former Premiership outfits over the last fortnight.

By Carl Marston

Sunderland 3 Colchester United 1

COLCHESTER United will be glad to return to their humble home at Layer Road after two fruitless trips to former Premiership outfits over the last fortnight.

The U's showed a big improvement on the previous weekend's 3-0 defeat at out-of-sorts Leeds but again they failed to gain any reward from their long trip to Roy Keane's Sunderland.

The Black Cats were in control for the first 75 minutes, thanks to a brace from livewire Stephen Elliott, at which point they looked to be heading for a no-nonsense victory.

However, Geraint Williams' men mounted a terrific late rally during the closing quarter-of-an-hour, prompted by Chris Iwelumo's 78th-minute goal, and inspired by Greg Halford's surging runs down the right wing.

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In fact, they could, and should, have grabbed an equaliser before substitute David Connolly calmed the nerves of the Stadium of Light faithful with a third goal in stoppage time.

Both Jamie Cureton and Kem Izzet were guilty of missing sitters, as United came close to snatching what would been only their seventh away point of the season - they have now lost seven of their 11 games on the road.

Leading scorer Cureton spurned his best chance of the afternoon in the 87th minute. Sunderland were hanging on by their fingertips when the U's striker latched onto Johnnie Jackson's pass, deep inside the box, only to miscue his shot wide with just keeper Darren Ward to beat.

Two minutes later and midfielder Izzet, who has not scored for two-and-a-half years (although he was injured for nearly a year), failed to hit the target from an even more dangerous position. Izzet benefited from Iwelumo's flick-on and looked poised to score from eight yards out. Alas, he scooped his effort over the bar.

And with that went the U's final chance of securing a point from their first-ever visit to the Stadium of Light. Saturday was actually the first ever meeting between the two clubs, in either the league or the cup.

Sunderland were a Premiership club only a few months ago, at the same time as the U's were mounting their successful bid to win promotion from League One. But there is little to choose between the two now, in terms of talent on the pitch. Furthermore, Keane's troops remain a point behind United in the Championship table.

Williams gambled by handing Jamie Guy his full league debut, in recognition of some excellent cameo roles as a late substitute.

The 19-year-old can be pleased with his performance, on the biggest stage of his life. He was not afraid to run at the Sunderland defence and registered several shots which peppered the target.

However, it was only when a frustrated Iwelumo appeared as a 71st-minute substitute, for a tiring Guy, that the visitors began to enjoy some sustained pressure.

For the first time since his arrival at Layer Road, during the summer of 2005, Iwelumo had been dropped from the starting line-up - the Scotsman started every league game last season, and was only a substitute for the first three games of this campaign due to a niggling injury.

Iwelumo took just seven minutes to halve the deficit, and so chalk up his fifth goal of the season.

Not surprisingly, Halford was the creator with a cross from the right. Sunderland were all at sea as Chris Barker steered the ball back into the danger zone. Karl Duguid had his snap shot blocked on the goal-line, but substitute Iwelumo swept the rebound home from six yards out.

Suddenly, we had a game on our hands. It was only in stoppage time, when Connolly tucked home his first goal for the Wearsiders since his big-money move from Wigan in August, that the U's were finally killed off.

Earlier, Sunderland had shaded the first-half, with Dwight Yorke prominent in a holding role in front of the back four. The former Manchester United star had acres of space to run at the U's defence.

But the deadlock was not broken until the final minute of the first period. While Halford was the pick of the U's team, so Elliott was the best player in Sunderland's ranks. He confirmed this by rifling in a vicious shot that swerved past a surprised Aidan Davison and sneaked in at the near post.

It was Elliott's third goal of the season, and he was celebrating his fourth inside seven minutes of the second-half.

Dean Whitehead managed to divert Chris Brown's low cross into the path of Elliott, just ahead of Davison and Pat Baldwin, and the former Manchester City trainee bundled home the loose ball from close-range.

For a while, Sunderland threatened to run riot. The U's weathered the storm, and then went on the offensive during a frantic finale.

In the end, though, they were left to rue those missed chances from Cureton and Izzet.

Thankfully, the Championship bandwagon returns to Layer Road next weekend, as do basement side Southend. It should be a cracker!

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