Life is so cruel for U's at the moment

JAMIE Cureton may not have scored against his old club, but it felt like it. And he celebrated like he had just won the league!Colchester United are in the doldrums, and they face a stiff challenge to try and drag themselves out of the relegation mire.

By Carl Marston

JAMIE Cureton may not have scored against his old club, but it felt like it. And he celebrated like he had just won the league!

Colchester United are in the doldrums, and they face a stiff challenge to try and drag themselves out of the relegation mire. Like many of the sides down near the bottom, luck is against them as well.

Geraint Williams' men could see the finish-line in sight, grimly hanging onto a 1-0 lead courtesy of Kevin McLeod's close-range effort in the 78th minute.

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Time was running out, but not for Cureton. The Colchester old boy made a nuisance of himself in the box for one last time, and the result was a scrambled own goal from the unfortunate Danny Granville. There were just 90 seconds left on the clock.

It was cruel on Colchester, who just about deserved to record a rare home win, in fact a rare victory of any sort.

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Conceding too many goals has been the chief headache of this frustrating campaign, but for once it appeared as though the Essex hosts were going to shut up shop for only their second clean-sheet in 22 games, and their first on home turf.

However, Mark Fotheringham's delivery from an 89th minute free-kick was headed down by Gary Doherty, and full-back Granville could only nudge the ball over the line with Cureton breathing down his neck.

I guess it was always on the cards that Cureton, if Norwich were to score, would have a key part to play in his former club's downfall.

The 32-year-old had received a lot of stick from the Layer Road faithful, and he repaid them by clearly celebrating the equaliser - such a contrast to his two goals against Norwich last season, when he was a U's player. He hardly raised a smile on those two occasions.

This was no classic contest. In fact, it had all the potential of rivalling the bore draw of when the Sky TV cameras last rolled into Layer Road (another 1-1 score-line against Leicester).

United were missing three big players, all with bags of experience. Skipper Karl Duguid and Kevin Watson were both nursing calf injuries, while striker Kevin Lisbie was feeling under-the-weather.

As has so often been the case this season, it was left to winger Mark Yeates to provide the sparkle going forward.

Again the Dubliner did not disappoint, drilling an 11th minute shot from Kem Izzet's lay-off narrowly over the bar. That was the closest that either side came to a goal in a turgid first-half.

Matters improved after the break, but only marginally.

The U's grabbed the ascendancy and Clive Platt nearly broke the deadlock on 55 minutes. Teddy Sheringham and Yeates combined for Platt to rifle in a thunderous half-volley that David Marshall managed to divert over his bar.

Five minutes later and United had appeals for a penalty turned down, when Yeates tumbled to the ground while trying to meet McLeod's deep cross.

The ex-Tottenham winger felt that he had been tripped by defender Mo Camara, though referee Michael Jones did not agree.

The deadlock was finally broken by McLeod's surprise goal with 12 minutes remaining.

Camara failed to cut out Johnnie Jackson's corner at the near post, and an unmarked McLeod steered the ball into the roof of the net with his knee from just a few feet out.

Norwich went all out for the equaliser. Substitute Croft appeared to be tugged back in the penalty area by Adam Virgo, only for City's penalty appeals to fall on deaf ears, and Darel Russell then struck a post with a header from Darren Huckerby's cross.

A second goal would have killed off the visitors. It nearly arrived in the 85th minute, as substitute Jamie Guy burst onto McLeod's pass and rounded keeper Marshall.

Guy must have sensed a first goal of the season, but defender Jon Otsemobor was back to clear the danger with an empty goal beckoning.

Then came the heartache of Granville's late own goal, to complete the drama.

It was as if all the key moments of the match had been squeezed into the final 12 minutes.

The U's remain third-from bottom, although they are now level on points (21) with the two teams below them, QPR and Preston.

They take on Rangers in a big relegation battle at Loftus Road next Saturday.

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