Blades join U's victims

PREMIERSHIP hopefuls Sheffield United were the latest in a long line of clubs to be steam-rollered by “underdogs” Colchester United, in a pulsating FA Cup third round tie at Bramall Lane on Saturday.

By Carl Marston

PREMIERSHIP hopefuls Sheffield United were the latest in a long line of clubs to be steam-rollered by “underdogs” Colchester United, in a pulsating FA Cup third round tie at Bramall Lane on Saturday.

The cock-a-hoop U's gained revenge for their fifth-round defeat at the same ground two years ago, but this was no smash-and-grab exercise. The best team won, and only some indifferent finishing prevented a bigger winning margin.

Blades boss Neil Warnock has never been a big favourite with Colchester fans. They recall a bullish Warnock guiding Plymouth to an old Division Three play-off semi-final victory over the U's in 1996. He was sent from the dug-out into the stands by the referee during a no-holds-barred second leg at Home Park.

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Warnock employed some more kidology during the build-up to Saturday's clash, claiming that Colchester would be “the favourites” when everyone read his team-sheet.

Well, as it turned out, the Blades supremo left it until the last minute before selecting his team, and in the end he kept faith with the bulk of the squad that had rattled up a third league win on the trot over Hull - 10 of that 16-man squad were picked to face the U's.

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The Yorkshire hosts duly raced into a fifth-minute lead, via Steve Kabba's smart finish, and for a while appeared as though they would canter into round four.

But Colchester are made of stern stuff these days. They weathered the early storm, and rallied with such determination that they went on to dominate the final 70 minutes of the game.

Neil Danns deservedly fired home a 33rd-minute equaliser, and super-sub Gareth Williams obliged with a 72nd-minute winner to send the visiting fans wild with delight.

It is estimated that about 1,800 supporters made the journey from north Essex to south Yorkshire, and they were treated to a wonderful performance and a wonderful day. These are indeed happy times to be a Colchester fan.

No Premiership club was knocked out of the FA Cup on Saturday, while Championship leaders Reading held West Brom to a goal-less draw. That meant that the U's had the distinction of knocking the highest-placed team out of the Cup on Saturday.

The Bramall Lane upset prompted calls and messages from U's fans on BBC Radio Five Live's “6-0-6” phone-in programme, and also yielded a rare interview with manager Parkinson on the same national radio station.

Thus, the Layer Road club finally seem to be getting the recognition that their achievements deserve - they have won 13 of their last 15 fixtures, and have only lost one match on their travels since the first month of the season!

Sheffield United could not boast such an impressive record, but they were still 11 points clear of third-placed Leeds in the Championship, and they must have predicted a safe passage through to the fourth round, especially as they had not lost to a team from a lower level in this competition for more than 20 years.

The Blades enjoyed the perfect start. U's keeper Aidan Davison could only block Michael Tonge's 20-yard drive and, although Paul Ifill's follow-up shot struck the underside of the bar, livewire Kabba was able to sweep the rebound into a gaping net from 12 yards out.

It was Kabba's 10th goal of the season, making him the Blades' leading scorer outright. Veteran striker Neil Shipperley, the man he replaced in the team, has nine goals.

The game could have been very different if referee Tony Leake had awarded Sheffield a penalty in the 15th minute. U's right-back Karl Duguid appeared to trip goalscorer Kabba in the box, but Mr Leake chose to wave play on.

Richard Garcia, who faces another spell on the sidelines after suffering another niggling injury in the second-half, when he strained his hamstring, gave the home side no end of problems during his short stay on the pitch.

The Australian clipped Mark Yeates' 25th-minute cross agonisingly over the bar, while at full stretch, and then had a big hand in Danns' equaliser just eight minutes later.

The Blades never got to grips with Greg Halford's long throws. Garcia fought hard to control one of these deliveries, and although he was quickly closed down by defenders, he was able to toe-poke through for Danns, who tucked home from just outside the six-yard box.

The U's never looked back. Centre-half Wayne Brown spurned a good chance to give his side the lead on 36 minutes, from another Halford long throw. Brown had already scored a couple of goals this season, but this time he spooned his shot over the bar from an excellent position.

The first-half ended with Colchester well on top. Keeper Phil Barnes parried a goal-bound shot from the excellent Yeates, while Danns was inches wide with a sizzling shot from yet another Halford missile.

Williams replaced the injured Garcia in the 52nd minute, and for a while the Blades threaten to regain their authority. However, Davison did well to block Tonge's long-range fire-cracker, and defender Pat Baldwin, recalled to the team in the absence of the suspended Liam Chilvers, capped a good afternoon with a strong defensive block on Kabba just before the hour-mark.

Danns turned creator for the U's second goal. The former Blackburn midfielder latched onto Duguid's pass and let fly from 20 yards out with a shot that Barnes tipped over the bar. United scored from the ensuing corner.

Yeates received Kevin Watson's short corner and swung over the ideal cross for Williams to glance home, with his head, from point-blank range. It was his first goal for almost a year.

The U's never looked like surrendering their lead. In fact, Chris Iwelumo should have added a killer third in the 80th minute when slicing his shot wide from Halford's delightful cross.

Who can stop the Colchester bandwagon? No one will relish a fourth round clash with Parkinson's men.

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