Heartbreak for Colchester United
Walsall 2 Colchester United 1
Relegation-haunted Colchester United suffered late heartbreak for the second game running, and this time they saw all three points slip through their fingertips.
Kevin Keen’s men had conceded a late equaliser in a 3-3 draw at Wigan the previous weekend, and today they leaked two late goals to see their 1-0 lead completely wiped out.
The U’s appeared to be on course to record only their seventh league win of the season, thanks to Alex Gilbey’s powerful header in first-half stoppage time.
Gilbey followed up his goal in the previous weekend’s 3-3 draw against Wigan with a clinical header at the Bescot Stadium.
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But just as the U’s had conceded a late equaliser against the Latics, so they leaked another late leveller at Walsall, with Tom Bradshaw poaching an 89th minute equaliser.
And worse was to come, as substitute Matt Preston then rammed home a dramatic winner, in the third minute of stoppage time, to poach all three points for the Saddlers.
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Earlier, it had been a cracking goal by Gilbey, who launched himself at a driven corner by Owen Garvan to send a thunderous header soaring into the roof of the net.
The U’s protected their lead quite comfortably for nearly all of the second half, and in fact looked more likely to add to their tally, rather than Walsall finding an equaliser.
But the U’s hopes were completely dashed in a breathless finale, so making it just one win from their last 23 league games.
The U’s made four changes to the side that were involved in a thrilling 3-3 draw against Wigan last weekend.
In came defenders Frankie Kent and Nicky Shorey, plus winger Gavin Massey and striker Chris Porter.
The U’s operated with a 4-4-2 formation, with Elliot Lee partnering Porter up front. And Massy latched onto Porter’s knock-down on two minutes, only to drag his shot wide from the edge of the box.
It was a bright start from the U’s, and the bustling Lee had a goal-bound shot charged down by midfielder Sam Mantom.
Walsall, third in the table before kick-off, finally threatened on six minutes when leading scorer Tom Bradshaw fed Romaine Sawyers. The midfielder pulled his shot wide of the near post.
Home keeper Neil Etheridge was forced into a smart save in the eighth minute, diving to his left to keep out Porter’s downward header with strong hands, from a corner. He just managed to prevent the ball from crossing the goal-line.
Walsall went close themselves in the 18th minute, when Leo Chambers chopped down striker Jordy Hiwula, when he was in full flight. Andy Taylor’s initial free-kick struck the defensive wall, and his follow-up shot was deflected narrowly wide of the far upright.
At the other end, Lee skipped past a couple of challenges to worm his way into the Saddlers’ penalty area. His final shot was parried by Etheridge, and from the ensuing corner, a scuffed effort by Massey was also clawed away by the busy home keeper.
U’s keeper Elliott Parish had impressed against Wigan last week, and he caught the eye again by smothering Rico Henry’s cross-cum-shot, down on his haunches, on the half-hour mark.
Two before half-time, Lee had a clear sight of goal from Porter’s lay-off. The West Ham loanee fired in a low drive that keeper Etheridge diverted around his far post.
But Etheridge was powerless to prevent the U’s from taking the lead, in first-half stoppage time, thanks to Gilbey’s bullet header from Garvan’s precise corner.
Rocked by conceding so late in the first half, Walsall struggled to get going during the early stages of the second period, and only a smart save by Etheridge, from Massey at point blank range, denied the U’s a second goal on the hour mark.
Winger Henry blasted a long-range shot over the bar in the 64th minute, but Parish was not even troubled during the third quarter of the game, before he was eventually required to catch a tame effort by Jason Demetriou on 73 minutes.
Ten minutes later and a mistake by Joe Edwards allowed Milan Lalkovic to run behind the U’s defence. The substitute squared for Sawyers, but his attempted volley was miscued, the ball dropping harmlessly over the bar.
However, Bradshaw bagged an 89th minute equaliser, with his first shot on target, beating Parish from close range for his 18th league goal of the season.
And there was still time for Preston to ram home the winner, following a goalmouth scramble.
WALSALL: Etheridge, Downing, O’Connor (sub Preston, 18), Taylor, Kinsella (sub Lalkovic 65), Demetriou, Mantom, Swayers, Henry (sub K Morris, 65), Bradshaw, Hiwula. Unused subs: MacGillivray, Forde, Flanagan, B Morris.
COLCHESTER: Parish, Shorey, Edwards, Kent, Chambers, Garvan, Gilbey, Moncur (sub Ambrose, 78), Massey, Lee (sub Wright, 74), Porter (sub Bonne, 79). Unused subs: Barnes, Lapslie, Brindley, Dunne.
Referee: Andy Haines (Tyne & Wear)