Free-scoring U's romp to victory

FREE-scoring Colchester United romped to their first home victory of the campaign - a 4-2 win at the expense of Mick Harford's QPR side last night.Former U's No.

By Carl Marston

FREE-scoring Colchester United romped to their first home victory of the campaign - a 4-2 win at the expense of Mick Harford's QPR side last night.

Former U's No. 2 Harford is in charge of Rangers on a caretaker basis, following manager John Gregory's dismissal on Monday, but he could not plot the downfall of his old club.

It was a case of two exciting attacks, and two wobbly defences. In the end, basement club QPR were a well-beaten side, despite scoring twice through Colchester old boys Hogan Ephraim and Rowan Vine.

The U's led 3-1 after a breathless first-half. Makeshift centre-half Mikele Leigertwood diverted into his own net for an own goal in the 19th minute, after keeper Lee Camp could only deflect Mark Yeates' cross-cum-shot onto the woodwork.

QPR were level in the 29th minute, with Ephraim and Vine combining for the former to bury a low shot past Dean Gerken, but United regained their lead just 60 seconds later.

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It came from an unlikely source. Experienced defender Danny Granville, who was making his full league debut for the U's on the left-wing, delivered a cross for the onrushing Kem Izzet to head home his first goal of the campaign.

Man-of-the-match Yeates crashed home one of his trademark free-kicks in the 38th minute, and although Vine cut the deficit with a sublime finish on 58 minutes, Clive Platt made the game safe for the hosts with a powerful header just after the hour mark.

As a result, the U's have made rapid advances up the Championship table, having begun the night level on points with third-from-bottom Norwich.

Rangers caretaker boss Harford chose to start with all three of the ex-Colchester players in his squad, which meant Chris Barker and Ephraim combining down the left flank, and Vine operating up front.

Barker and Ephraim had both enjoyed productive long- loan stints at Layer Road last term, while Vine had been a star performer during a year on loan in 2003-04. QPR signed Vine on an emergency loan deal from Birmingham City on Tuesday.

And Vine should really have broken the deadlock on his QPR debut after just eight minutes. Fellow striker Dexter Blackstock won a commanding header in the box to leave Vine with an open goal at his mercy, but he miscued his effort horribly wide and centre-half Pat Baldwin managed to hastily clear.

Seconds later and the action switched to the other end. Lisbie turned this way and that before hooking a shot wide of the near post.

Otherwise, the visitors dictated the early stages. Again they were close to scoring in the 14th minute when Vine turned creator with a powerful run down the left wing. His cross sneaked through to team-mate Gareth Ainsworth, who blasted in a low drive that was blocked by Dean Gerken.

However, it was the U's who took the lead against the run of play in the 19th minute, thanks to an own goal from Leigertwood.

Yeates, as so often this season, was the inspiration. The Dubliner let fly with a cross-cum-shot that Camp could only divert onto his own bar, and Leigertwood stabbed the rebound into his own net while under pressure from livewire Lisbie.

That goal temporarily rocked QPR back on their heels and Lisbie nearly doubled the lead in the 21st minute. His deft header from Yeates' corner looped over the bar.

Chances continued to flow at both ends. Gerken denied Vine twice in quick succession, firstly blocking a goal-bound drive and then lunging forward to punch away a teasing cross, while U's midfielder Jackson fired in a shot that cannoned wide off a defender.

QPR levelled in the 29th minute, with Ephraim the lethal marksman. Predictably it was an old boy Colchester combination. Ephraim exchanged a one-two with Vine on the left-edge of the penalty area before advancing forward to tuck home a low shot beyond Gerken.

However, Rangers' lead lasted just one minute. Izzet arrived in the penalty area unnoticed to guide a free header into the corner of the net from Granville's pinpoint cross.

The U's had a great chance to establish a two-goal lead in the 33rd minute. Clive Platt burst through on goal but was over-stretching as he directed a shot straight at Camp, who gratefully smothered.

However, it didn't take long for the hosts to move into a 3-1 lead, courtesy of Yeates' sixth goal of the campaign.

QPR skipper Adam Bolder chopped down Lisbie just outside the box, and free-kick specialist Yeates did the rest. The former Tottenham winger saw his thunderous shot take a deflection off the defensive wall and wrong-foot the hapless Camp.

An entertaining first-half almost ended in a bizarre Colchester own goal. Baldwin was under pressure when over-hitting a back pass and Gerken scuffed his attempted clearance. Fortunately, the ball rolled across the face of goal and wide.

Former U's left-back Barker fancied his chances of scoring from a free-kick early in the second-half, following Jackson's foul on Ainsworth.

Barker failed to score in 39 appearances for the U's last season, and it was therefore not surprising that his rather tame effort was easily saved by Gerken.

Camp kept his team in the match with two superb saves on 55 and 56 minutes. The ex-Derby County keeper pushed away Adam Virgo's stunning volley from Yeates' free-kick, and then produced similar heroics to parry Lisbie's goal-bound header from another delivery by Yeates.

And QPR took advantage by reducing the deficit to 3-2 in the 58th minute. Again it was an ex-Colchester player on target as Vine benefited from Ainsworth's dazzling run to beat the advancing Gerken with a crisp finish.

There was hardly time to blink. In fact, just four minutes later and Colchester restored their two-goal lead to give themselves some breathing space again.

Lisbie was desperately unlucky not to be celebrating his fourth goal in a U's shirt, when his curling shot thudded back off the far post.

However, QPR could not clear the danger and Izzet pumped a cross back into the box for Platt to direct an unstoppable header into the roof of the net. It was his first goal at Layer Road, and his second of the season, since his summer move from MK Dons for a club record fee.

The visiting defence continued to wobble. An unmarked Platt nodded Yeates' 71st minute free-kick into the six-yard box, from where Granville headed agonisingly wide from a great position.

The U's were denied a fifth goal by an assistant referee's flag in the 75th minute. Lisbie beat Camp with an accurate shot from 12 yards out, but the ex-Charlton front-runner was standing in an offside position.

Both teams seemed to run out of energy and ideas during the final 15 minutes, which was hardly surprising when considered the frantic pace that this game had been played for three-quarters of the night.

Vine tried to engineer a nervous finale. He shrugged off the attentions of Virgo in the last minute of normal time, but sliced his shot wide of Gerken's goal.

The U's were not worried again during four minutes of stoppage time, and so could begin to celebrate a welcome first home win of the season.