Ipswich knocked out of their stride
LAYER Road, the graveyard of so many illustrious visitors over the years, was the chilling scene for yet another Colchester United scalp on Saturday.Ipswich Town, in the thick of the play-off race, were knocked out of their stride by a U's team who made a mockery of their hopeless position at the foot of the Championship table.
LAYER Road, the graveyard of so many illustrious visitors over the years, was the chilling scene for yet another Colchester United scalp on Saturday.
Ipswich Town, in the thick of the play-off race, were knocked out of their stride by a U's team who made a mockery of their hopeless position at the foot of the Championship table.
The U's are still sure to go down, but for once the threat of relegation was not really an issue. Instead, Geraint Williams' men played with a new-found freedom and self-confidence which was enough to brush aside a toothless Town team.
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Jim Magilton's troops are still in with a good chance of scraping into the top six, and therefore the lottery of the play-offs, but they will have to improve dramatically. The U's may have rode their luck at times, but they were good value for this win in the last ever East Anglian derby to be hosted at Layer Road.
Last season it was club stalwart, Karl Duguid, who plundered the winner to sink Ipswich 1-0. That was an electric night, with two in-form teams trading blows in front of the Sky TV cameras, and under the magic of the Layer Road lights.
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This time it was one of the newer recruits, Scott Vernon, who did the damage. The circumstances were different, because the U's were just one match away from being officially relegated, rather than taking the Championship by storm as the brash newcomers. But the victory was just as sweet.
They must now beat Leicester City next weekend, and hope that other results go their way (including midweek fixtures involving Sheffield Wednesday and Barnsley), to prolong their stay in the second tier just that little bit longer. But no one was really talking about relegation on Saturday night.
It was Ipswich who bossed possession, and created the better scoring opportunities, but their game seemed to lack an edge and an intensity. Colchester had both in abundance.
Of course there is still much for Town to look forward to, if they can snatch sixth spot over the last five games. But few would begrudge the U's this bright spark in an otherwise gloomy season.
Vernon was an unlikely hero. The 24-year-old had only started three previous games, since his move from Blackpool at the end of January, but he was handed a rare start because of Clive Platt's absence with a back injury.
His first goal was a delight. Town had already squandered a couple of chances, with Alan Lee the guilty party, before Vernon nipped in to break the deadlock on 29 minutes.
Kevin Lisbie, who must be the favourite to scoop the U's player-of-the-season award, set up Vernon with a neat lay-off from John White's long through ball. A goal did not look likely until Vernon's terrific first touch saw him glide past a couple of defenders and then clip a right-footed shot beyond Stephen Bywater.
At that stage there was no need for Ipswich to panic - the U's may have been ahead, but they had not kept a clean-sheet for 40 games and had only collected two points from their last 10 fixtures!
However, they could find no way past an inspired Dean Gerken, and when Danny Haynes did manage to divert Alan Quinn's volley into the net in first-half stoppage time, that effort was ruled out for offside. It was marginal, but Haynes did appear to have strayed a foot behind the U's defence.
Town kept up the pressure until around the hour mark, but it was Colchester who then took the game by the scruff of the neck, much to the delight of their long-suffering supporters.
Johnnie Jackson could have doubled the lead in the 61st minute, when pulling his shot wide from in front of goal, following Lisbie's delightful pass. And it was no surprise that Lisbie was involved in Vernon's killer second goal.
Livewire Lisbie headed forwards and defender Sito made a mess of his attempted clearance, merely nodding into the path of Vernon. The U's striker decided to try his luck from the edge of the box, with his less favoured left foot, and the ball rolled perfectly beyond Bywater and into the far corner of the net via the far post.
It was Vernon's fourth goal in a Colchester shirt, following his important winner at Bournemouth in April, 2006 (while on loan), and his penalty in the 2-1 win over Preston just two months ago. In fact, whenever Vernon has scored, the U's have won!
A determined Gerken made sure that he didn't concede a goal late on, so that he could finally chalk up his first clean-sheet of the season - the only other shut-out, in a 3-0 win at Preston on August 25, coincided with Aidan Davison's short spell in goal.
Magilton had introduced all three substitutes, to try and inject some urgency into his team, and Jordan Rhodes was unlucky to see his shot-on-the-turn well saved by Gerken on 86 minutes.
Yet it was Colchester who finished looking the more likely to score again. Lisbie embarked on a mazy run before dragging a shot wide, and Bywater blocked a thunderous drive from Phil Ifil in stoppage time.
This was a victory to savour in a lean season at Layer Road. They live to fight another day, and perhaps another week, as do Ipswich in their quest for the play-offs.
But you get the feeling that Town will be happy to see the back of the U's old ground!