Below-par U's earn point

ALL good things come to an end, and Colchester United's fantastic sequence of home victories was finally halted by spirited Leicester City in an action-packed Layer Road affair.

By Carl Marston

ALL good things come to an end, and Colchester United's fantastic sequence of home victories was finally halted by spirited Leicester City in an action-packed Layer Road affair.

The U's fell just short of equalling the club record of 12 straight home league wins (as a League club), set by Bobby Roberts' men during the 1976-77 season.

After 11 Layer Road victories on the bounce, a below-par United could not squeeze past visiting Leicester, who were good value for a point to keep themselves a good distance from the relegation zone.

But it is credit to Colchester that they could still force a draw, when not playing well. Chris Iwelumo's clinical 48th-minute penalty cancelled out Iain Hume's 19th minute opener, so keeping the Essex club in the Championship's top six.

A club record may have slipped from their grasp, but the U's have still collected an awesome 34 points from a possible 36 in their last 12 home league matches. Saturday was actually their first home draw of the campaign.

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They had referee Danny McDermid to thank for his hand in the equaliser. This London-based official had an unconvincing afternoon in what was his first Championship fixture and he surprised everyone by awarding the U's a penalty early in the second half.

Iwelumo felt that he should have won a penalty in the first half, after being tugged back by defender Patrick McCarthy as Wayne Brown floated a 17th-minute free-kick into the box.

Mr McDermid ignored those claims, but then pointed to the spot when McCarthy and Iwelumo grappled for the ball again, just inside the penalty area, within three minutes of the restart.

Iwelumo needed no second invitation, sending keeper Paul Henderson the wrong way with another confident spot kick - his fifth of the season. It was also the big man's 14th goal of the season, bringing him level with his strike-force partner Jamie Cureton.Iwelumo's penalty was just the tonic that Colchester required, after what had been a strangely subdued first-half. There was perhaps a slight hangover from Tuesday night's FA Cup defeat at League Two hosts Barnet.

By contrast, Leicester had held Premiership visitors Fulham to a 2-2 draw the previous weekend, thanks to substitute Danny Cadamarteri's last-minute equaliser, and they maintained that buoyant mood into their first ever visit to Layer Road.

It tells its own story that U's keeper Dean Gerken was the man-of-the-match. The 21-year-old blocked Matty Fryatt's angled drive in the eighth minute, the first of several smart saves.

Rob Kelly's men had a goal ruled out in the 10th minute, when impressive defender Patrick Kisnorbo headed home a free-kick. The Australian was climbing all over Brown, so the goal did not stand.

But the U's were left trailing by Hume's ninth goal of the season on 19 minutes. Fryatt released Hume with a slick pass, and the ex-Tranmere front-runner slotted beyond Gerken for a deserved opener.

United nearly went two-down on the half-hour mark. The luckless Fryatt steered home left-back Alan Maybury's cross-cum-shot, only to be standing in an offside position.

Cureton was well shackled by the Foxes back-line. The on-fire striker, who had chalked up his 14th goal of the season in the 2-1 defeat at Barnet, had just one opportunity to add to his tally when lifting a long-range shot just wide from Iwelumo's knock-down.

The Layer Road crowd had booed Mr McDermid off the pitch at half-time, unhappy at his failure to give a penalty to the U's, and also a number of other strange decisions that had included four bookings - a total that was to rise to seven by the end of the game (there was not a bad tackle all afternoon!).

However, the U's faithful were cheering when the Championship's rookie referee duly awarded the U's that 48th-minute spot-kick. Iwelumo's equaliser set-up an intriguing second-half.

The U's exerted more pressure, and began to play with more conviction, but it was still Leicester who looked the more likely winners.

Gerken was at full stretch to palm away Maybury's 25-yard rocket, and then obliged with the save of the game on 81 minutes. Fryatt was clean through on goal, but he could not poke the ball past Gerken, who had raced off his line to make a vital block.

And when Gerken was left out of position, following a mix-up with Brown, Foxes midfielder Gareth Williams was off target with his header in the dying minutes.

There was still time for Mr McDermid to be plunged under the spotlight again, by flashing Karl Duguid a yellow card and then a red one for a simple foul.

The U's skipper had not been booked before, a fact that had escaped the referee until he had consulted with his fourth official on the sidelines.

Duguid enjoyed a reprieve - just a yellow card for the foul. Ironically, the most relieved man at the final whistle was probably Mr McDermid!

His afternoon was over, as was the U's tremendous run of home wins.

Next stop Portman Road next weekend.

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