Bad return for Burley

Colchester United 2 Southampton 0“BURLEY, Burley, what's the score? - this was the popular chant that echoed around Layer Road on Saturday afternoon.

By Carl Marston

Colchester United 2 Southampton 0

“BURLEY, Burley, what's the score? - this was the popular chant that echoed around Layer Road on Saturday afternoon.

Southampton manager Burley did not enjoy his return to his old club, Colchester United, one little bit. The U's fans treated him to a hot reception, and his players were outfoxed by another gutsy home display from Geraint Williams' men.

United are going great guns in the Championship, bolstered by a superb home record. An early goal from Kevin McLeod, on his first start for the club, and an injury-time cracker from hot-shot Jamie Cureton ensured a fifth home win on the trot.

The Saints, who were in the Premiership only two seasons ago, were blown away early on, although they staged a dramatic rally during the final 20 minutes. They were thwarted by a mixture of dreadful finishing, tremendous defending, stoic goalkeeping, and a “diabolical” refereeing decision.

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This heady mixture left Burley fuming at the final whistle. To add salt into Southampton's wounds, the U's have now leapfrogged the Saints in the Championship table. They are safely installed in 10th spot, with a healthy 20 points from 14 fixtures.

Burley resigned as Colchester United's manager on Christmas Eve, 1994, just seven months after his appointment. The Scotsman had guided the U's into the old Division Three play-off zone before turning his back on the Layer Road club, in favour of taking over the much-prized job at Ipswich Town.

That was nearly 12 years ago, but memories linger. This was the first time that Burley had returned to his old club as an opposing manager and he will not forget it for a while.

United, as they had done in their previous home wins over Ipswich and Sheffield Wednesday, started in blistering fashion. They were ahead after just three minutes, an advantage that they never relinquished.

Left-winger McLeod, signed from Swansea City before the August transfer deadline, crowned his first start with a quality opening goal. Cureton was the inspiration, floating over an inch-perfect cross for ex-Everton trainee McLeod to head into an empty net at the far post.

McLeod has had to be patient this season, sitting on the substitutes' bench waiting for a rare chance to enter the fray. Richard Garcia's one-match suspension gave him that opportunity, and he took it with open arms.

In fact, it will be difficult for manager Williams to leave McLeod out of the team on Saturday's dazzling performance. He was a menace down the left-wing all afternoon, much to the chagrin of former Ipswich Town stalwart Jermaine Wright.

The same goes for Johnnie Jackson, who enjoyed his start since August due to Kevin Watson's calf injury. The ex-Tottenham 24-year-old bossed the centre of the park, spraying the ball about with accuracy and assertiveness. He looks set to continue in that role at Norwich City tomorrow evening.

Former Ipswich Town keeper Kelvin Davis had his work cut out to keep the Saints in with a shout. Jackson charged onto Cureton's through ball on 28 minutes, shaking off a couple of challenges before firing in a shot that Davis diverted around his post.

Five minutes later, and Jackson was giving Davis another stern test. The Saints keeper, who made 93 appearances for Town in two seasons between 2003 and 2005, was at his best to palm away Jackson's stinging drive.

Southampton were simply not at the races in the first-half, and Burley recognised this by introducing substitutes Rudi Skacel and Mario Licka for the start of the second period. He also replaced leading scorer Grzegorz Rasiak (eight goals) with livewire Bradley Wright-Phillips after the hour mark. But it was not until the final 20 minutes that the visitors finally began to threaten the U's goal. Winger Nathan Dyer, who was the Saints' best player, carved out a terrific chance for substitute Wright-Phillips, although the former Manchester City front-runner could only shoot straight at Aidan Davison.

It was then a case of the U's hanging on grimly. Davison, so keen to keep his fourth clean sheet of the campaign, parried a goalbound header from Kenwyne Jones at point blank range, and then was at full stretch to fingertip away Skacel's skidding low shot. The hosts rode their luck in the 83rd minute, when Greg Halford appeared to shove over Jones in the box. The Trinidad & Tobago international had every right to expect referee Dean Whitestone to point to the spot.

Both managers also agreed that it was a blatant penalty, but Mr Whitestone waved play on, much to the relief of the bulk of people crammed into Layer Road.

Three minutes later and Davison was beaten to the ball by Iniago Idiakez, which presented Skacel with a simple tap-in.

However, the ex-Hearts attacker aimed his shot straight at Chris Barker, who was standing on the goal-line. It was a marvellous last-ditch clearance.

U's fans feared a goal during the four minutes of injury-time but they needn't have worried because it was their side who broke the shackles to net a killer second goal.

The excellent Cureton scampered onto Halford's exquisite long ball forward, taking his time before beating Davis with a thumping shot.

It was his sixth goal of the season, and it ensured that Southampton, and Burley, were going to leave Layer Road empty-handed.

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