Joy for U's at end of memorable season
NEVER has a goalless draw been greeted by such scenes of jubilation! Every Colchester United fans' wildest dreams came true at Yeovil on Saturday.Sing it from the rafters - the U's are going UP!Championship football will be coming to Layer Road next season, which means the likes of Ipswich Town, Norwich City, West Brom, Birmingham, Sunderland and Co will all be gracing the U's little old stadium.
By Carl Marston
NEVER has a goalless draw been greeted by such scenes of jubilation! Every Colchester United fans' wildest dreams came true at Yeovil on Saturday.
Sing it from the rafters - the U's are going UP!
Championship football will be coming to Layer Road next season, which means the likes of Ipswich Town, Norwich City, West Brom, Birmingham, Sunderland and Co will all be gracing the U's little old stadium. They are unlikely to enjoy the experience.
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This has quite simply been a fantastic season to be associated with Colchester United, in any capacity, as a manager, player, director, official, supporter, tea-lady or even local reporter!
Even the once-in-a-lifetime trip to Premiership champions Chelsea, for a memorable FA Cup fifth round tie, was eclipsed with the magnitude of what Phil Parkinson's men achieved at Huish Park, in deepest Somerset.
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It wasn't pretty. In fact, it was a stinker of a game. But no U's fan could care less. The Essex side came to Yeovil with one thing on their mind - to earn the one point that would secure a top-two finish in League One.
Of course, they would love to have signed off their outstanding season with a win, if only to settle the nerves and put pressure on Essex rivals Southend in the title-race. The Shimpers went up as champions.
But it was never going to be that easy. U's fans arrived at Huish Park in their droves, preparing themselves for an afternoon of anguish with, hopefully, a happy ending.
Hosts Yeovil, who had dumped Colchester out of the FA Cup (5-1) when still a non-league club in 2000, had secured their League One status for another season by winning at Huddersfield the previous weekend, a result that had knocked the Terriers out of the automatic promotion frame.
The Glovers, therefore, could play with freedom. There was a party atmosphere as the player-of-the-year awards were presented on the pitch before kick-off. The home fans were relaxed; at the other end, the away supporters were already chewing on half-gnawed finger-nails.
The nerves were not eased by the news that star central defender Wayne Brown, the all-conquering player-of-the-year, had strained his hamstring during a light training session in Reading on Friday afternoon, and so was unable to start.
Added to the recent blows of losing keeper Aidan Davison (serious bout of food poisoning) and winger Mark Yeates (dislocated shoulder while celebrating his goal against Rotherham), U's boss Parkinson was again forced to reshuffle his pack.
Jamal Campbell-Ryce was handed his first start, in the absence of Yeates down the left-wing, while Pat Baldwin replaced Brown and 20-year-old Dean Gerken played his third match in a row, watched by his goalkeeping coach Davison, who had been well enough to make the trip to the south-west.
The tension was unbearable. The U's did not play well in the first-half, by their high standards, even though Greg Halford and Neil Danns registered early goal-attempts.
And they were indebted to their keeper Gerken, and the woodwork, for denying Yeovil an opening goal in the 18th minute. Leading scorer Phil Jevons, with 16 goals to his name this term, let fly with a ferocious shot that Gerken managed to divert onto the bar.
It was a fantastic save, and also just the slice of luck that the U's needed to stay in possession of the all-important second spot. That moment doubled in importance when news filtered through that third-placed Brentford had taken the lead at Bournemouth - Martin Allen's men needed to win, and the U's to lose, for the Bees to sneak into the automatic promotion zone.
The drama continued. Chris Iwelumo, who was just one short of rattling up 20 goals for the season, squandered a half-chance in the 32nd minute. Greg Halford benefited from Kevin Watson's quickly-taken free-kick and fired in a low cross, which Iwelumo stabbed wide at the near post.
Gerken capped a confident first-half showing by fisting away David Poole's injury-time free-kick. In fact, the U's brave keeper was a tower of strength all afternoon, especially with ensnaring every cross that came his way.
Half the job had been done, and news of Bournemouth's late first-half equaliser eased the pressure just a notch. As it stood, the U's still had a three-point advantage with 45 minutes of the season remaining.
The second-half was certainly one of the longest halves of football that I have ever endured! To be fair, Colchester stepped up a gear and took control of the game, but there was always the hidden dread of one last, late twist in the plot.
Brentford regained the lead at Dean Court, midway through the second-half, to ensure that no U's fan could rest easy. Back in Somerset, Scott Vernon headed a foot over the top from Watson's 50th minute corner, and Danns cracked a long-range shot wide of the far post.
Yeovil could not break the shackles, although they did have one gilt-edged opportunity to steal victory. Time seemed to stand still as Poole latched onto Jevons' downward header, leaving him a clear route to goal. Gerken scampered off his goal-line and did just enough to distract Poole, who dragged his shot agonisingly wide of target.
That moment of truth arrived on 70 minutes. The U's, somehow, kept their composure to close out the game. Liam Chilvers thwarted substitute Matt Harrold with a couple of timely challenges, inside the penalty area, and then something wonderful happened - referee Andre Marriner blew his final whistle!
All those worried looks, and furrowed brows, disappeared in a flash.
The U's players ran over to their jubilant travelling fans, and the celebrations began in earnest. The dream had been fulfilled. The Championship beckoned. Brentford conceding a late equaliser to draw 2-2 at Bournemouth was merely academic. The U's had been in control of their own destiny, right to the last kick of the last game.
It was a day that will live long in the memory, to complete a season that will never be forgotten.