Clean sweep of the East for on-fire U's

Colchester United 3 Norwich City 0RABBITS startled by the glare of full-beam headlights. That depicts the dazed appearance of Norwich City players during a dazzling second-half performance from hosts Colchester United on Saturday.

By Carl Marston

Colchester United 3 Norwich City 0

RABBITS startled by the glare of full-beam headlights. That depicts the dazed appearance of Norwich City players during a dazzling second-half performance from hosts Colchester United on Saturday.

City boss Peter Grant did not mince his words after watching his team become the latest to be humbled on Layer Road turf. United have now won 13 of their 20 home games in a fantastic season, and Grant labelled his side “awful” and “embarrassing”.

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After an entertaining but even first-half, the U's tore the Canaries to shreds with a blistering second-half display. Their reward was three goals, netted by Jamie Cureton, Richard Garcia and Chris Iwelumo.

Norwich, like so many other visitors to Layer Road, did not know what hit them. They have joined a growing list of former Premiership clubs who have been put to the sword, by their humble hosts, a group that includes the likes of Derby, Sheffield Wednesday, Ipswich, Southampton and Wolves.

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A sell-out crowd witnessed another great occasion. It was the Canaries' first visit to Layer Road for 47 years, and they won't be wanting to return for a while - unfortunately for them, they will have to endure a repeat visit next season!

A hat-trick by Colchester's all-time top goalscorer, Martyn King, inflicted a 3-0 defeat on City in February, 1960, but there was no single hero in this latest East Anglian encounter. To a man, the U's were sensational.

Naturally, though, it was former Norwich old boy Cureton who opened the floodgates with his clinical opener in the 52nd minute. The 31-year-old had scored on his first return to Carrow Road six months ago, following his departure in 1996, in a 1-1 draw.

He received a good reception from visiting fans on Saturday, but they were not amused when he turned to lash home a thunderous shot past keeper Tony Warner, after strike-force partner Iwelumo had done well to nod back Karl Duguid's deep cross at the far post.

It was Cureton's 18th goal of the season, and his 17th in the league. He is therefore closing in on the 20-goal target, which he has not achieved since 2000-01 (while at Reading).

Ignoring the exploits of Roy McDonough (26 goals in 1991-92) while the U's were a non-league club in the Conference, Cureton has a terrific chance of becoming the first Colchester player to score 20 goals in a Football League season since Tony Adcock in 1984-85.

City had mounted a strong rally at Carrow Road, to cancel out Cureton's strike and force a draw, but there was never any suggestion that they would bounce back on Saturday. The final half-hour was embarrassingly one-sided.

The U's wide-men linked up to double the lead in the 64th minute. Johnnie Jackson powered down the left flank and delivered a low cross that Warner could only divert into the path of Garcia, who side-footed into a gaping net.

There was no way back for Norwich. Their wayward shooting did not threaten Dean Gerken, and their frustrations were summed up by off-the-ball bookings for both Youssef Safri and Chris Martin.

Iwelumo deserved a goal, and he duly chalked up his 16th of the season to seal the win on 73 minutes.

He had right-back Andy Hughes to thank for some dreadful defending. Hughes' backward header, from Garcia's prod forward, dropped at the feet of Iwelumo. The Scotsman's first shot was parried by Warner, but he thumped home the rebound past a static Hughes on the goal-line.

United had further chances to pile on the misery. Iwelumo was thwarted by a smart save from Warner, and substitute Hogan Ephraim was also kept out by the Fulham loanee keeper.

Midfielder Kevin Watson, so desperate to score his first home goal of the season, was unlucky with a couple of long-range shots, but the damage had already been done.

Earlier, even though it was goalless in the first-half, there was no shortage of goalmouth action. Norwich had a gild-edged chance to break the deadlock after just five minutes, when Darren Huckerby burst through on goal, but Gerken raced off his line to save with his legs.

Five minutes later and Iwelumo rattled the bar with a looping header from Kem Izzet's cross. That prompted a good spell of pressure, with Jackson fizzing a 20-yarder wide, and Iwelumo trying his luck with a cheeky shot from an acute angle that Warner beat away.

There was little indication, though, of what was to come in the second-half. United took complete control and have therefore taken a strong grip of 10th spot in the table.

They have also achieved a welcome clean-sweep of beating all four of their East region rivals at Layer Road - Ipswich, Southend, Luton and Norwich. It has indeed been a dream season.

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