Gillespie back and in fine form for U's

Tiptree United 2 Colchester United 3STEVEN Gillespie, a year after marking his debut in a Colchester United shirt with a hat-trick, returned to the same ground to produce another encouraging display at Tiptree in a pre-season opener on Saturday.

Carl Marston

Tiptree United 2 Colchester United 3

By Carl Marston

STEVEN Gillespie, a year after marking his debut in a Colchester United shirt with a hat-trick, returned to the same ground to produce another encouraging display at Tiptree in a pre-season opener on Saturday.

Club record signing Gillespie netted a second-half equaliser and could have bagged another hat-trick, but most importantly he looked to be fighting fit.

The ex-Cheltenham striker endured a season-long battle against injuries, following his three goals at Chapel Road last summer. And it was a battle that he lost.

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Colchester's fate this season could again hinge on the fitness of Gillespie. The U's finished 12th in League One last term, with Gillespie playing just one full 90 minutes all campaign, but if the 25-year-old can stay fit over the coming months, then he looks a good bet for a 20-goal haul - and that might sustain a promotion push from Paul Lambert's men.

Lambert fielded two different starting line-ups for each half, with the exception of defender John White, who played for an hour. Gillespie was in the second-half XI.

The quartet of David Perkins, Ashley Vincent, Lee Beevers and Paul Reid were all nursing injuries, and so did not figure, while there were U's debuts for new signings Ben Williams, David Fox and Magnus Okuonghae.

There was also one triallist, in the shape of Craig Watkins. The Havant & Waterlooville winger operated down the right flank in the first period.

Hosts Tiptree started well and were ahead after just seven minutes. U's full-back Phil Ifil, who might be on the move this summer, chopped down Lee Underwood inside the box, and it was Nathan Clarke who converted the penalty.

Debutant Williams actually got a hand to the ball, but could not prevent it from flying into the side of the net.

The U's drew level in the 17th minute. Summer signing Fox, who operated in central midfield, whipped over a corner for Anthony Wordsworth to head powerfully home. A defender tried to prevent the ball from crossing the line, but he seemed to fail. John White rifled in the rebound, just in case.

However, Tiptree regained their lead just 60 seconds later. Matt Lockwood under-hit a back pass, leading to a misunderstanding with keeper Williams, and Underwood gleefully steered home into an unguarded net.

The Jam Makers spurned further chances to increase their advantage before half-time, with Williams doing well to deny Lewin Ward on a one-on-one situation.

But Colchester's second-half side was far stronger - the bulk of the team for the season's opener at Norwich is likely to be drawn from this group - and it was a one-sided affair for the rest of the game.

Clive Platt, who was a handful, had a goal-bound header tipped over by keeper Matt Belcher. The Tiptree custodian also pushed a long-range shot from the impressive Sam Corcoran around his near post.

But the equaliser finally arrived on 64 minutes, when livewire Gillespie slid home Simon Hackney's excellent cross at the near post - Hackney enjoyed himself down the left wing throughout the second period.

An own goal decided the game in Colchester's favour in the 81st minute. Defender Liam White could only help Johnnie Jackson's cross into his own net, and there was still time for Gillespie the rattle the far post with a left-footed shot late on.

The U's will now be spending the next week at a training camp in Germany, before returning to prepare for their eagerly-awaited second pre-season friendly at home to Premier League side Aston Villa on Tuesday, July 21.


TIPTREE UNITED (starting XI): Belcher, Harvey, Cross, Lunan, L White, Ward Rix, Owen, Underwood, Wareham, Clarke.

COLCHESTER UNITED (first-half): Williams, Ifil, Heath, White, Lockwood, Izzet, Fox, Wordsworth, Wakins, Vernon, Guy.

COLCHESTER UNITED (second-half): Cousins, Maybury, Baldwin, Okuonghae, White (sub Malton, 60), Corcoran, Hammond, Jackson, Hackney, Gillespie, Platt

Tiptree starting XI: Belcher, Harvey, Cross, Lunan, White, Ward, Rix, Owen, Underwoood, Wareham, Clarke.

Attendance: 523

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