Defensive frailties cost U's a vital win

Colchester United 1 Hartlepool United 1COLCHESTER United's inability to defend set pieces cost them dear as Hartlepool United snatched a point at the Community Stadium.

Carl Marston

Colchester United 1 Hartlepool United 1

COLCHESTER United's inability to defend set pieces cost them dear as Hartlepool United snatched a point at the Community Stadium.

The U's appeared to be heading for back-to-back home victories, when Scott Vernon fired them into a 1-0 lead in the 44th minute.

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Anthony Wordsworth flicked on a delicate cross from Marc Tierney, and the onrushing Vernon controlled with his chest before prodding the ball beyond the reach of keeper Arran Lee-Barrett. It was the ex-Blackpool striker's fourth goal of the season.

But the U's could not hold onto this lead and, not for the first time this season, they conceded a soft goal from a corner. Centre-half Michael Nelson climbed high to head powerfully home from Gary Liddell's corner, and so secure a 71st minute equaliser.

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The U's could not fashion a winner during the final quarter of the game, and so those play-off hopes look even more remote!

U's boss Paul Lambert rung the changes following Tuesday night's 1-0 home win over Stockport. Vernon, Wordsworth and Lewis Gobern all enjoyed recalls to the starting line-up, with David Perkins and Clive Platt dropping to the bench. Skipper Dean Hammond was injured.

Stand-in skipper Kem Izzet was the first to have a sight of goal. After a non-descript first 10 minutes, Izzet let fly with a 20-yard volley that swerved only a couple of feet off target.

Jimmy Walker pulled off a terrific save to thwart Hartlepool in the 16th minute. Walker instinctively stuck out a hand to parry Sam Collins' goal-bound header, from Gary Liddell's free-kick.

A frustrated Collins then conceded a free-kick in a dangerous position at the other end of the pitch, for a foul on Scott Vernon, but Yeates smashed his free-kick straight into the defensive wall.

Ex-Colchester loanee Ritchie Jones threatened on 19 minutes. He was lurking just outside the six-yard box, only to have his shot blocked by the combined efforts of Wordsworth and Marc Tierney. Both flung themselves in front of Jones.

It was Pools keeper Lee-Barrett's turn to make an outstanding save on the half-way mark. He was at full stretch to claw away Yeates' wonderful 25-yarder, and so prevent the Dubliner from celebrating his 11th goal of the season.

The visitors had a shout for a penalty turned down in the 39th minute. Michael Mackay pounced on a mistake by Paul Reid and burst into the box, where he appeared to be upended by Alan Maybury. But referee Mick Jones was in a good position and he saw nothing wrong with the challenge. Mackay probably made a meal of it.

Just when it seemed as though the teams would be locked together at 0-0 going into half-time, up popped VERNON with a clinical finish in the 44th minute.

Wordsworth flicked on Tierney's cross and Vernon controlled with his chest before beating Lee-Barrett with a slick finish from eight yards out. It was his fourth goal of the campaign.

Vernon nearly added a quick-fire second just before the break, but his goal-bound shot was deflected wide.

Half-time: Colchester 1 Hartlepool 0

Pools wide-man Jones, who had a loan stint at Layer Road in 2006, was booked for a late challenge on Tierney in the 54th minute, and just seconds later Reid made a goal-saving block on striker Mackay, deep inside the box.

Winger Simon Hackney showed his electric pace to leave defender Richie Humphreys trailing his wake, but the U's new recruit dragged his shot across goal and wide.

Soon afterwards and Lambert changed his formation from 4-3-1-1 to 4-4-2, by introducing substitute Steven Gillespie as the extra striker, in place of winger Gobern.

But it was Hartlepool who were celebrating when NELSON headed home a surprise equaliser in the 71st minute. The big centre-half rose unmarked to nod home Liddell's corner.

Substitute Gillespie nearly regained the lead in the 85th minute. His close-range shot was saved at full stretch by Lee-Barrett, and the follow-up would not fall kindly for Yeates.

Full-time: Colchester 1 Hartlepool 1


COLCHESTER UNITED: Walker 7, Maybury 6, Baldwin 7, Reid 8, TIERNEY 8, Gobern 6 (sub Gillespie, 65), Izzet 6, Wordsworth 7, Hackney 6 (sub Perkins, 90) Yeates 7, Vernon 7 (sub Platt, 73). Unused subs: Coyne, Cousins.

HARTLEPOOL UNITED: Lee-Barrett 7, Sweeney 6, NELSON 8, Collins 7, Humphreys 6, Jones 6 (sub Foley, 68), Liddell 7, Clark 7, Monkhouse 6, Mackay 5, Guy 6. Unused subs: Cook, Henderson, Rowell, Tait.

Referee: Mr Michael Jones (Cheshire) 7

Attendance: 5,158

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