Carl Marston’s Memory Lane: the day Paul Gibbs “fired” Colchester United into the play-offs

Doncaster

Doncaster - Credit: Archant

Carl Marston recalls the final day of the regular season from 1995-96, when Colchester United clinched a play-off place with a dramatic 1-0 home win over Doncaster

The U’s have entertained Doncaster Rovers on 23 previous occasions, but probably the most important of the lot came on May 4, 1996, the last day of the 1995-96 campaign.

The U’s needed to beat Rovers, and hope that results elsewhere went their way, to finish in the Endsleigh League Division Three play-off zone.

That Saturday was all about red-hot passion, half-chewed finger nails and never-ending excitement. It was edge-of-your seat stuff, from the first whistle to the last.

The odds were stacked against Steve Wignall’s men making the top seven. They simply had to win, while either Hereford had to lose to Rochdale, or Wigan had to slip up against Northampton.


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Paul Gibbs was the unlikely hero for the U’s.

Deep into first-half injury-time, Gibbs was lurking on the left wing, 35 yards from goal and seemingly posing no danger to Rovers.

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The former Diss Town favourite shaped to cross with his trusty left boot, but the ball took a bobble at the last moment.

Gibbs’ sliced cross turned into an unstoppable shot as the ball ballooned over dazed keeper Gary O’Connor and into the roof of the net. Gibbs celebrated in style, stripping off his shirt with arms aloft in front of a jubilant Barside, inside a packed Layer Road.

The U’s defended like their lives depended on it in the second half, while Northampton snatched a late winner against Wigan to confirm that the U’s had indeed made the play-offs. It was a great day.

U’s team v Doncaster (May 4, 1996): Emberson, Fry, Betts, McCarthy, Caesar (sub Locke, 46), Cawley, Kinsella, Dennis, McGleish, Reinelt (sub Whitton, 68), Gibbs.

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