Fine margins and Ameobi controversy – Carl Marston’s Colchester United Talking Points

Drey Wright looks on in the background as both Sammie Szmodics (sliding in mud) and Olamide Shodipo

Drey Wright looks on in the background as both Sammie Szmodics (sliding in mud) and Olamide Shodipo just fail to divert home his cross, during the second half of the U's 3-1 home defeat to Notts County Picture: STEVE WALLER - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Colchester United’s already distant play-offs hopes were finally quashed for good, at the hands of ruthless Notts County on Saturday.

Mikael Mandron, Ben Stevenson and Luke Prosser surround referee Brendan Malone after Notts County's

Mikael Mandron, Ben Stevenson and Luke Prosser surround referee Brendan Malone after Notts County's second goal, netted by Shola Ameobi in the U's 3-1 home defeat. Picture: STEVE WALLER - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

A run of three straight wins, over Stevenage, Luton and Forest Green Rovers, had given John McGreal’s men an outside chance of making the play-offs at the start of this month.

To make further inroads into a four-point deficit, they needed to kick on over their next two home fixtures, but instead back-to-back defeats by leaders Accrington and promotion-chasing County have found the U’s to be left wanting.

A goal up at half-time, through Drey Wright’s slick finish on nine minutes, the hosts were sunk by three clinical goals in a demoralising second period.

The strike-force duo of Jonathan Forte and Shola Ameobi, plus defender Richard Duffy, were all on target to leave the U’s six points behind the top seven, with just three fixtures remaining.

They are down in 11th spot, so a third successive season in the fourth tier is now inevitable.

Fine margins

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The U’s have struggled to take games by the scruff of the neck, when they have got their noses in front, throughout this season.

And that was encapsulated by Saturday’s experience.

The U’s deserved to be ahead, via Drey Wright’s third goal of the season following a neat exchange with Ben Stevenson, but a killer second goal eluded them.

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In fact, on only seven occasions this season have the U’s won by more than a one-goal margin – against Forest Green Rovers (5-1), Crawley (3-1), Mansfield (2-0), Crewe (3-1), Exeter (3-1) and Newport (2-0) at home, and Crawley 2-0 away.

And yet they had the Magpies hanging on by their fingertips.

Just two minutes after Wright’s goal, it was winger Wright’s turn to be a creator. He teed up Sammie Szmodics, whose shot was charged down by a defender.

Keeper Adam Collin did not look comfortable. He only saved Mikael Mandron’s stinging drive at the second attempt, and also spilled a 20-yarder by Kane Vincent-Young, which he just managed to recover before a U’s player could pounce.

The key moment came early in the second period, when Tom Eastman’s close-range header cannoned back off the back post and rolled to safety. So near, and yet so far.

Denied a second goal by inches, on 49 minutes, the U’s conceded an equaliser just two minutes later and suddenly the game was about to be taken out of their reach.

Ameobi controversy

It is very unlike U’s boss John McGreal to criticise referees, but he went out of his way to blame match official Brendan Malone for the failure to send off County front-man Shola Ameobi, when the U’s were 1-0 up and in the driving seat.

An off-the-ball incident with Luke Prosser ended with the U’s skipper lying in a crumpled heap on the deck. Ameobi escaped with just a chat from Mr Malone, and the incident was largely forgotten until McGreal aired his frustration in his post-match interviews.

“Looking at the video, he (Ameobi) is a lucky boy to still be on the pitch,” insisted McGreal.

“I think decisions made by referees have really killed us this season.

“I’ve watched it back again, and I questioned the fourth official at the time. The referee (Malone) was in the ideal place and he has chosen not to see it. He has told me that he did not see it.

“I think that is one of the reasons why he has only refereed about five games (Saturday was actually his seventh) this season.

“To come into a top-of-the-tablish game, with both teams having a lot to play for, we get a referee that has only refereed about five games (six before kick-off) this season.

“He said that he will have a look at it, and I think he will be disappointed.”

Prosser was a bit more diplomatic, admitting that he had been elbowed in the chest by Ameobi, and that on another day the ex-Newcastle striker could have been red-carded.

But the skipper added that this decision was not the reason why the U’s lost this game.

Where from here?

The play-off hopes are over, and it is unlikely that the U’s will quite match last season’s eighth-placed finish, or even eclipse their 69 points tally from 2016-17.

But they have three games left, all against promotion-seeking teams, to at least have a final say in the promotion shake-up.

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