GALLERY AND REPORT: Ex-Arsenal man Sanchez Watt is the hero in Colchester United victory over Gillingham
Colchester United 3 Gillingham 0 Sanchez Watt marked his first home start, for more than four months, with the all-important opening goal as Colchester United deservedly beat Gillingham at the Community Stadium this afternoon.
The U’s dominated, after a sluggish start, but left it late before adding the second and third goals through Clinton Morrison (86 minutes) and substitute Freddie Sears (fifth minute of injury-time).
The dominant U’s broke the deadlock just five minutes into the second half, thanks to hit-man Watt.
It was Watt who began the move, releasing Brian Wilson down the right flank, and the skipper’s low cross into the danger zone was steered home by the onrushing Watt.
After all his recent struggles with injury, this was a sweet moment for the former Arsenal winger.
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And Watt was the instigator of the U’s second, with four minutes left. His cleanly-struck angled shot looked to be heading for the net, but Morrison applied the finishing touch for a welcome goal.
And Sears completed a fine afternoon for the U’s by rattling home a third with virtually the last kick of the game, his shot going in off the inside of the far post.
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The Gills, clad in a distinctive all-pink strip, had actually started the brighter and the U’s had some defending to do during the first five minutes.
The hosts finally threatened as an attacking force in the 10th minute, when Clinton Morrison headed wide from Luke Garbutt’s corner.
Morrison was in the starting line-up due to Jabo Ibehre’s absence through injury. Left-sided specialist Ryan Dickson was also out injured.
Watt’s scuffed 20-yarder was the first shot on target from either side, on 18 minutes, although keeper Stuart Nelson was hardly troubled by this daisy-cutter.
Three minutes later and Nelson did have a better save to make, diving to his right to claw away a goal-bound shot by Craig Eastmond, following Watt’s lay-off.
The Gills’ leading marksman, Cody McDonald, was not far off chalking up his 10th goal of the season in the 22nd minute. The ex-Norwich City striker’s thunderous long-shot flashed wide of target with Sam Walker flat-footed.
Garbutt was comfortably the best player on the park during the first period, and he was twice denied by Nelson in quick succession after the half-hour mark.
First Nelson fisted away Garbutt’s stinging shot, with Eastmond unable to bury the loose ball – his hastily-struck volley was sliced wide from 10 yards out.
Garbutt tried his luck again, with a fierce 20-yarder on 34 minutes. Again Nelson was relieved to just block with strong hands, and trust to luck with the rebound. The ball did indeed roll to safety.
The U’s ended the half on top, but without being able to break the deadlock. A sweet move, featuring Garbutt, Watt and a cushioned header down by Morrison, ended with Eastmond miscuing a shot wide.
The Gills did not muster an effort on target before the break.
Into the second half and Garbutt again caused a stir in the 47th minute with a curling shot that Nelson spilled, only to gather at the second attempt before Tom Eastman could pounce.
Three minutes later and the U’s finally broke the deadlock, thanks to Watt’s finishing prowess from Wilson’s cross.
It was nearly 2-0 in the 53rd minute, only for Wilson’s cross-cum-shot to be headed off the goal-line by Bradley Dack.
Gillingham were struggling to mount any sort of attack, although Danny Kedwell did head over the top from Jake Hessenthaler’s 58th minute corner.
At the other end, Dominic Vose went far closer with a strong run and a cracking shot that dipped just too late on its way over the bar.
It was then Garbutt’s turn to test Nelson with another long-range shot, this time struck with venom from 30 yards out. The Gills keeper did well to smother, with opponents queuing up to pounce on any scraps.
On 70 minutes, Vose brought the home fans to their feet with a surging run. He skipped past left-back Joe Martin, but saw his shot turned around the near post by keeper Martin.
From the ensuing corner, Morrison squandered a good chance when lifting his shot over the bar from just outside the six-yard box.
Eastmond so nearly doubled the lead in the 77th minute. He latched onto Marcus Bean’s lay-off and struck goalwards with a low shot that Nelson managed to scramble away with a last ditch save.
But Morrison did wrap up the points in the 86th minute, steering home Watt’s goalbound shot, and Sears added a marvelous late third.
COLCHESTER: Walker, Wilson, Okuonghae, Eastman, Garbutt, David Wright, Bean, Eastmond, Watt (sub Sears, 88), Morrison (sub Bonne, 88), Vose (sub Olufemi, 85). Unused subs: Cousins, Sanderson, Spence, Kent.
GILLINGHAM: Nelson, Harriman, Legge, Barrett, Martin, Gregory, Dack (sub Smith, 64), Hessenthaler (sub Weston, 74), McDonald, Kedwell, Fagan (sub Akinfenwa, 64). Unused subs: Howard, Linganzi, Davies, Marriott.
Referee: Darren Drysdale (Lincs)