Big guns are spiked by homely U's

THE big guns keep rolling into Layer Road, with their big reputations and big money stars, and they continue to leave with their wings clipped.Steve Bruce's Birmingham City millionaires avoided defeat, unlike many of their predecessors, but they had to battle for their lives to secure a point.

By Carl Marston

THE big guns keep rolling into Layer Road, with their big reputations and big money stars, and they continue to leave with their wings clipped.

Steve Bruce's Birmingham City millionaires avoided defeat, unlike many of their predecessors, but they had to battle for their lives to secure a point.

None of the top 10 teams in the Championship have tasted victory at Layer Road this season, a remarkable statistic. Current leaders Derby and second-placed Preston have both been beaten in this corner of Essex, as have the likes of Southampton, Cardiff and Stoke.


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In fact, Geraint Williams' men can boast the longest unbeaten home record in the Championship, a run spanning 14 games and stretching back to the middle of August. Twelve wins and two draws tell its own story, with 38 points accumulated from a possible 42.

Kem Izzet chose the perfect time to score his first goal in nearly three years, prodding the U's into the lead on 56 minutes.

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Unlike visiting Preston last Tuesday, who never looked like cancelling out Garry Richards' opener, Birmingham had the firepower to bounce back and grab a draw, thanks to Stephen Clemence's clinical header just nine minutes later.

City finished like a train, but they didn't do enough to win the game. A point apiece was a fair result and an outcome that satisfied both camps.

The last time that Izzet had scored was from a header against Brighton on March 20, 2004, so he was well overdue another goal - it must be remembered, though, that the former Charlton trainee did spend almost a year on the sidelines with a serious ankle injury.

Jamie Cureton was a menace all afternoon, and it was he who played a key role in Izzet's precious goal. Cureton turned to lash in a 20-yard shot that beat keeper Colin Doyle, only to ricochet back off the far post. Izzet anticipated the rebound and managed to tuck the ball home, despite Doyle getting a touch to the shot, to become the 11th player to score for the U's this season.

Back-to-back defeats by Ipswich and Southend had seen Birmingham lose top spot to Derby, but they stopped the rot by finally beating the excellent Dean Gerken in the 65th minute.

Gerken pulled off a wonder save to divert defender Radhi Jaidi's downward header around his post following a free-kick by Gary McSheffrey. However, City scored from McSheffrey's ensuing corner, with ex-Tottenham midfielder Clemence heading home from six yards out.

That set up an exciting final quarter of the game. The visitors, with their superior physical presence, tried to lay siege to the U's goal, although they only had a couple of clear-cut opportunities to net a second goal.

Danish substitute Nicklas Bendtner, who had scored a late winner in the corresponding fixture at St Andrews on the opening day of the season, was out of luck when heading over the bar from skipper Damien Johnson's teasing cross.

Cameron Jerome missed a far better chance on 78 minutes. The former Cardiff ace was clean through on goal, following Bendtner's pass, but hooked his shot wide with just Gerken to beat.

Colchester were just as prominent during the later stages. Substitute Hogan Ephraim was denied by a good save from Doyle, while both Cureton and man-of-the-match Chris Barker fired thunderbolts narrowly over the bar.

By contrast, the first-half had been bereft of attacking prowess. In fact, Birmingham did not muster a shot on goal until ex-Bolton defender Bruno N'Gotty rattled the woodwork with a viciously curling free-kick in the 43rd minute.

It was also a disappointing afternoon for two former Colchester stars. Rowan Vine was ineffective up front, in what was only his second game for the Blues since his move from Luton, while Neil Danns never even got onto the pitch. The £500,000 man was an unused substitute.

A third ex-Colchester star, Greg Halford, was an interested spectator in the main-stand following his £2.5m switch to Reading last Tuesday.

Any fears that the U's might crumble, following the loss of Halford, have already been quashed. The U's have collected four points from two games since the talented right-back's departure (also a 1-0 win over Preston).

The future remains bright, both for Halford and his old team Colchester!

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