Finishing touch is all that is lacking

RARELY has Layer Road hosted such a one-sided contest, only to end in a draw. Colchester United did everything except apply the lethal finishing touch against Brentford on Saturday.

By Carl Marston

RARELY has Layer Road hosted such a one-sided contest, only to end in a draw. Colchester United did everything except apply the lethal finishing touch against Brentford on Saturday.

It was an enthralling game, played at break-neck speed, with the U's dictating the pace and creating chance after chance.

Promotion rivals Brentford, who are still clinging on to the second automatic promotion spot by the skin of their teeth, edged into an early lead thanks to Jay Tabb's sixth-minute opener.

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But for the rest of the afternoon, Martin Allen's men were forced on to the back foot, content to soak up wave upon wave of attacks from their impressive hosts.

It seemed only a matter of time before Colchester would convert their opportunities into goals, and so wrap up the victory that would have brought them level on points with the second-placed Bees.

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But try as they might, the U's could only fashion one solitary goal, Chris Iwelumo's 31st-minute equaliser. A mixture of bad luck, poor finishing, unorthodox goalkeeping and superb defending kept the teams locked together.

For United, it was two points dropped. They had produced one of their best performances of the campaign, and the Layer Road crowd certainly had their money's worth. But they will be disappointed not to have significantly increased their chances of making the top two.

Brentford were just relieved to escape with a precious point. They offered very little as an attacking force, but they remain in pole position to join leaders Southend in the direct route to the Championship.

Huddersfield beat Barnsley 1-0 in the Yorkshire derby to move level on points with the Bees, while the U's stay three points adrift, with a game in hand. It remains very, very tight.

The U's were irresistible going forward, inspired by the tricks of Mark Yeates down the left wing. The Tottenham loanee teased the Bees defence all afternoon, especially bemused right-back Jamie Smith.

Yeates provided a glut of crosses, and rained in shots from all angles. Alas, the Irishman could not replicate what he achieved at Griffin Park on New Year's Eve, when he netted both goals in a 2-0 success.

Brentford's best spell, during the opening 10 minutes of the game, yielded the opening goal. Aidan Davison rushed off his line to block Calum Willock's stinging drive from close-in, only for the visitors to score from the ensuing corner.

Paul Brooker's cross dropped at the feet of Tabb, and the Bees midfielder coolly swept home a low shot from 10 yards out.

Danger-man Yeates, a real crowd-pleaser, nearly equalised in the 17th minute. He skipped past a couple of defenders and tested Stuart Nelson with a fierce shot that the Bees keeper palmed away at his near post. In fact, the only disappointing feature of Yeates' season-long loan from Tottenham has been his lack of goals - just three in the league.

United were on level terms just after the half-hour mark. Karl Duguid whipped over a precise cross from the left wing for Iwelumo to head firmly home from the edge of the six-yard box. It was the Scotsman's 18th goal of the campaign, keeping him on course to reach the 20-goal mark during the last seven matches of the season.

The U's took centre stage from that moment on. Yeates clipped the bar with a cross-cum-shot on 40 minutes, and Tony Thorpe seemed poised to prod home the rebound when the excellent Michael Turner intervened with a last-gasp challenge. Ironically, centre-half Turner rather than keeper Nelson was often the Bees last line of defence!

Early in the second half and Turner came to his side's rescue again by clearing Thorpe's overhead kick from the goalline. Nelson was hopelessly out of position.

There was the unusual sight of four defenders huddled around Yeates, trying to dispossess the U's winger on 57 minutes. Yet still Yeates managed to deliver a dangerous cross, only for Iwelumo to aim his volley straight at Nelson, who gratefully clutched the ball to his chest.

The U's continued to press for the winner, and Turner made his third match-saving contribution by preventing Greg Halford's goalbound shot from dropping into the net.

Brentford were tiring badly, but they held on. Nelson smothered a long-range effort by Billy Clarke - the Ipswich Town loanee appeared as a 70th-minute substitute for Thorpe - and the Bees keeper then blocked a similar effort from Kevin Watson, with Neil Danns denied a chance to bury the rebound, predictably by Turner!

U's boss Phil Parkinson will be heartened by this performance, if a little disappointed with the result. They will need to repeat the display at Nottingham Forest next weekend, to keep pushing for that elusive second spot.

There are seven games left, and it's still all to play for. The U's have emerged from their recent barren spell, and are now unbeaten in four matches. Now it's time to rediscover that killer instinct.

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