Layerdrome no more a ground to fear

WHATEVER happened to the “Layerdrome?” Last season's garrison is being breached far too easily this term.Geraint Williams' men rattled up an impressive 10 home wins on the bounce during their fantastic first ever campaign in the Championship.

By Carl Marston

WHATEVER happened to the “Layerdrome?” Last season's garrison is being breached far too easily this term.

Geraint Williams' men rattled up an impressive 10 home wins on the bounce during their fantastic first ever campaign in the Championship. They ended with the second best home record in the division, and the Colchester United players dubbed their Layer Road ground as the “Layerdrome.”

But visiting teams have become wise to treating the U's as a soft touch. As a result, United no longer tear into opposing defences like a hungry tiger, eager for goals and another major scalp.

Those days of thumping Hull City 5-1, outclassing Norwich 3-0 and toppling all-conquering Sunderland 3-1 look long gone. Of course those golden days could return, and quickly, if they can rediscover their killer instinct when QPR come to town on Wednesday night.

But that will require a big improvement on Saturday's shocker. Newly-promoted Scunthorpe fully deserved their first away win in the Championship, courtesy of Paul Hayes' 41st minute winner.

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The U's should have been awarded a penalty earlier in the game, when Mark Yeates was cynically hauled down by Frenchman Kelly Youga. But referee Andy Woolmer, and his assistant, ignored the strong appeals for a spot kick.

Even the usually mild-mannered Williams was angry with the referee's decision not to give the penalty. He was remonstrating with the fourth official long after the dust had settled.

But this bad luck aside, the U's lacked the guile and quality to find a route back into this game. Scunthorpe anticipated a backlash in the second period, but they held out with a degree of comfort.

The hosts had some good possession, but too often the final ball in the final third let them down. Their crossing was mediocre, with wingers Kevin McLeod and Yeates never really finding their range, and there were too many instances of an attacking player being isolated with no immediate support.

The shooting and heading was also generally off target. Johnnie Jackson advanced forward at every opportunity from his midfield role, only to be denied by a combination of wayward finishing, and some smart defending from the visitors.

In fact, the Scunthorpe class of 2007-08 is reminiscent of the Colchester class of 2006-07. The Glanford Park club are relishing life in the higher league, following promotion over the summer, and they have the hunger to close down opponents effectively, especially when they are threatening just outside the box.

On the road, the U's have played well during the first couple of months of the campaign. Their one victory from nine league and cup games was away from home at Preston (3-0), and they were good value for their draws at Sheffield United, Southampton and Blackpool.

Unfortunately, they have reserved their two poorer displays for Layer Road. They were punished for a slow start in the 3-2 defeat by Burnley, while on Saturday there was a lack of urgency and positive endeavour about their play. Hayes' goal was worthy of winning any game. The ex-Barnsley striker clipped the ball over defender Adam Virgo and tucked his low shot neatly beyond Dean Gerken.

Recalled to the side due to Aidan Davison's groin injury, Gerken was actually far busier than his opposite number Joe Murphy. He produced the two best saves of the match, by finger-tipping Kevan Hurst's 20th minute shot over this bar when the score was still goalless, and then blocking midfielder Matt Sparrow's drive with his legs in the second-half.

At the other end, Kevin Lisbie suffered an off-day in front of goal, most notably when slamming wide from an acute angle on the stroke of half-time, after Clive Platt had helped on George Elokobi's cross.

Williams tried to inject some fresh impetus by introducing substitutes Jamie Guy and Luke Guttridge for the final quarter of the game, but in truth the U's sorely missed the presence of Teddy Sheringham. The former England striker remains troubled by a hamstring injury, and has not featured in the last three games.

Free-kick specialist Yeates curled another of his 25-yard efforts narrowly wide of the near post on 87 minutes - he had scored twice from similar positions at Blackpool - and Platt headed off target in stoppage time from Yeates' corner.

The U's did not play well, and can have few complaints. It's just a shame that when they have played well in recent weeks, they have been largely picking up draws rather than wins. That's why they are installed in the lower half of the table.