Gallery: A step too far for managerless U's

MANAGERLESS Colchester United were finally toppled from top spot, following defeat at the hands of MK Dons on Saturday.

Carl Marston

MANAGERLESS Colchester United were finally toppled from top spot, following defeat at the hands of MK Dons on Saturday.

Leeds United, who visit the Community Stadium this Saturday, and Charlton Athletic, managed by former boss Phil Parkinson, both preserved their 100% records to leapfrog the U's in the table.

Fresh from winning their first three league games of the campaign, the Essex club were hoping to make history by making it four on the bounce - they had not won their first four league games since joining the Football League in 1950.

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But it was to prove a step too far for caretaker boss Joe Dunne and his brave team. For once, following all the upheaval of the last week, with the manager (Paul Lambert) and skipper (Dean Hammond) amongst those departing, the U's had to concede defeat in Milton Keynes.

Scott Vernon's third goal in four league games was a highlight, reducing the score to 2-1 with still a quarter of the game remaining. Yet there was to be no comeback this time.

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The Dons were in the driving seat for most of the first half, and could have been out of sight before half-time.

Keeper Ben Williams produced several fine saves to thwart Paul Ince's men, but he was powerless to prevent ex-U's loanee striker Jermaine Easter from breaking the deadlock from the penalty spot in the 22nd minute.

The pace of Easter, Jemal Johnson and Jason Puncheon had already caused problems for the U's back-line, with winger Johnson giving full-back Lee Beevers a particularly torrid time down the left flank. Beevers' unfortunate afternoon was ended prematurely by a shoulder injury just before the half-hour mark.

The U's could have few complaints about the opening goal. They may have contested referee Keith Stroud's decision to penalise Pat Baldwin for a shove on Easter, in front of goal, but the official was a little hasty in using his whistle because a split-second later and Johnson planted the rebound into the net.

Johnson's effort did not stand, but Easter expertly dispatched the ensuing penalty, even though Ben Williams guessed the right way.

Magnus Okuonghae had a day to forget. The ex-Dagenham & Redbridge defender enabled Easter to scamper through uncontested on 38 minutes, and was indebted to Williams for a smart block. And Okuonghae nearly turned a cross into his own net just before half-time, with Williams again coming to his rescue with a reflex save.

More defensive lapses led to the Dons second goal, on 58 minutes, leaving the U's staring defeat in the face. Skipper Baldwin and Okuonghae failed to intercept as Mark Carrington burst through to round onrushing keeper Williams and walk the ball into an empty net.

The U's two-week stay at the top was over. Vernon did set up an intriguing finale, by heading home David Fox's pinpoint cross from close-in, but there was to be no match-saving equaliser.

Kem Izzet, who had an impressive game in central midfield, spurned one good chance when lifting a shot over the top from 10 yards out in the 85th minute. The ball soared high into the stand behind, and with it went the U's hopes of a point.

United are still flying high in third spot, with second-placed Leeds due in town this weekend, but the future remains uncertain.

The managerial situation needs to be resolved, and the exodus of players halted.


MK DONS: Gueret 8, Howell 7, McCracken 7, Woodards 7, Davis 7, Chadwick 6 (sub Doumbe, 69), Carrington 7, Gleeson 6, Johnson 7 (sub Ibehre, 69), PUNCHEON 8, Easter 8 (sub Baldock, 86). Unused subs: Searle, Partridge, Bridges, Chicksen.

COLCHESTER UNITED: Williams 8, Beevers 5 (sub Maybury, 28), Okuonghae 5, Baldwin 6, Tierney 7, Vincent 7, IZZET 8, Fox 7, Hackney 5 (sub Perkins, 63), Lisbie 7, Vernon 7 (sub Thomas, 79). Unused subs: Wordsworth, Malton, Lockwood, Cousins.

Referee: Mr Keith Stroud (Hampshire) 6.

Attendance: 8,633.

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