Forget the play-offs with this form

YOU can forget about the play-offs. Colchester United will be lucky to finish in the top half of the table!

Carl Marston

Scunthorpe United 3 Colchester United 0

By Carl Marston

YOU can forget about the play-offs. Colchester United will be lucky to finish in the top half of the table!

Gate-crashing the top six was always more of a pipedream than a realistic aim for the U's, who were in the relegation zone in October and have struggled to win at home all season.

An impressive run of results on the road had kept those faint hopes alive, but even their eye-catching away form deserted them at Scunthorpe on Saturday. The second-half performance at a blustery Glanford Park was the poorest by a U's side since Paul Lambert's appointment five months ago.

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United have lacked a regular goalscorer all season, and they were undone by Iron's own prolific marksman, Gary Hooper, who boosted his tally for the campaign to 29 with a brace. His goals have been a prime reason for the Lincolnshire club's current position in the play-off zone.

Winger Henri Lansbury added a third goal to keep the hosts on course for a possible quickfire return to the Championship - they were relegated along with the U's last term. They also have a trip to Wembley to look forward to next Sunday, against Luton in the final of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy.

By contrast, the U's have little to enthuse over during the last month of the season. A top 10 finish, or even a place in the top half of the table, might prove beyond them, especially as they have some tricky fixtures remaining against the likes of Millwall (away tomorrow evening) and Leeds (at home on Saturday).

Before kick-off, the U's had been trailing sixth-placed Scunthorpe by 10 points. A win would have reduced that gap to seven, and at least preserved those remote hopes of a play-off berth, but an hour later and the plan was in tatters.

Scunthorpe took the lead in the 36th minute, thanks to Hooper springing the U's offside trap. The ex-Southend striker scampered onto Paul Hayes' flick-on, rounded keeper Mark Cousins and managed to squeeze his shot into an empty net, despite the close attentions of defender Neal Trotman.

Preston loanee Trotman had enjoyed an outstanding debut at Leicester City the previous weekend, but he never reached those heights on his second appearance, although he did appear to pick up a slight ankle injury in the first period.

He was certainly left trailing in Hooper's wake as the Scunthorpe front-runner caught the visitors napping with his second goal on the hour mark. He reacted quickly to Lansbury's quickly-taken throw-in and beat the onrushing Cousins with a smart finish from the edge of the box.

A minute later and Karl Hawley rattled a combination of the bar and the far post with a rasping shot. A goal at that point could have sparked a Colchester comeback, but it wasn't to be and a breakaway third goal from Iron ensured that the final quarter of the game was largely academic.

A U's attack broke down and a few seconds later Lansbury was exploiting acres of space, cutting in from the left to thump an 18-yard shot past Cousins. It was all too easy.

The other two main incidents of the afternoon also went against the U's. Firstly, they had strong appeals for a penalty turned down when the deficit was just one goal - Mark Yeates seemed to be fouled by Krystian Pearce inside the box.

And secondly, the luckless Johnnie Jackson lasted just three minutes as a substitute before he limped off with a hamstring injury, sustained just before Scunthorpe bagged their third goal.

All-in-all, this was a depressing day. An icy wind blew into the faces of the visiting fans, and there was little comfort to take from their team's performance on the pitch.

Roll on next season.

Squads

SCUNTHORPE UNITED: Murphy 7, Wright 7, Mirfin 7, Pearce 8, Williams 6, Lansbury 7 (sub Woolford, 76), Sparrow 7, Trotter 7, Hurst 6 (sub Togwell, 59), Hayes 7, HOOPER 9 (sub May, 82). Unused subs: Crosby, Slocombe.

COLCHESTER UNITED: Cousins 6, Maybury 6, Trotman 5, Baldwin 6, Tierney 6, Perkins 6 (sub Gobern, 67), Hammond 6, Izzet 7 (sub Jackson, 67, sub Hackney, 70)), Yeates 6, Platt 6, HAWLEY 7. Unused subs: White, Gerken.

Referee: Mr Graham Scott (Oxfordshire) 6

Attendance: 4,304

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