Mixed emotions after enthralling draw

Bristol City 1 Colchester United 1THERE were mixed emotions in both camps after an enthralling, incident-packed Championship clash between clubs at the opposite ends of the table.

Carl Marston

Bristol City 1 Colchester United 1

THERE were mixed emotions in both camps after an enthralling, incident-packed Championship clash between clubs at the opposite ends of the table.

Colchester United, dangerous going forward and resolute at the back, dropped to the basement despite this gutsy draw. Previous bottom club Preston chalked up a home win over high-flying Watford.

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Ironically, hosts Bristol City rose to the top of the table, at least for a couple of hours until West Brom regained the leadership, although they were kicking themselves for dropping two points on home turf against such lowly opposition.

Even though the U's were under the cosh for the final hour, they still felt aggrieved that referee Grant Hegley failed to award them a penalty in the last minute of injury-time.

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Of course the visitors were happy to avoid defeat, but they were incensed that defender Tamas Vasko's clear foul on Kevin Lisbie, inside the penalty area, went unpunished.

A penalty then would have given the U's a chance to poach a win with virtually the last kick of the game. Lisbie certainly felt that he should have had a chance to rattle up his 10th goal of the campaign.

The game therefore ended on a slightly sour note for the visitors, which was a pity because this had been another heartening away performance, after the 2-1 win at Charlton on New Year's Day.

There were so many positives for the U's, offering genuine hope that they have the potential to avoid relegation.

Chris Coyne and Phil Ifil, who arrived at Layer Road for big-money fees on Thursday, both impressed.

Experienced centre-half Coyne marshalled the defence with confidence and good organisational skill. The Australian stood firm alongside Adam Virgo, who had recently extended his loan deal from Celtic until the end of the season.

Likewise Ifil, so keen to catch the eye on his United debut, coped well against City's threatening wingers. The 21-year-old showed maturity at right-back, despite the best efforts of Michael McIndoe and occasionally Ivan Sproule.

City's major strength lies with these two attacking wingers. The fact that Gary Johnson's men only managed one goal is testimony to both full-backs, Ifil and John White, who stuck to their guns all afternoon.

Kem Izzet delivered a man-of-the-match display in central midfield, alongside the tireless Luke Guttridge, and Johnnie Jackson gave the U's some much-needed momentum during the opening quarter of the game.

Colchester's best spell was during a rip-roaring first 20 minutes when they could have built a two or three-goal lead.

Lisbie was on fire, and he broke the deadlock as early as the sixth minute to overhaul Yeates as the leading scorer with nine goals.

Skipper Jackson was the inspiration, directing an intelligent header into the path of Lisbie, from Clive Platt's delivery. The ex-Charlton striker kept his cool to curl home a low shot beyond the reach of keeper Adriano Basso.

Three minutes later as Lisbie charged through on goal again, this time from Yeates' pass. Basso advanced off his line to parry Lisbie's rising shot.

City had only lost two home league games all season, and had begun the day level with West Brom and Watford at the top, so it was not surprising that they gradually began to take control.

Home boss Johnson was furious referee Mr Hegley did not point to the spot, when Ifil appeared to upend Sproule in the box on 23 minutes, and further penalty appeals were waved away after Coyne seemed to tug back skipper Jamie McAllister.

An equaliser was on the cards, and it finally arrived in the 33rd minute. The lively Sproule cut inside Virgo and buried a low shot into the far corner of the net.

For a few minutes, the U's were in danger of being swamped. The Robins had the ball in the back of the net again just 60 seconds later, as Vasko stabbed home following Dean Gerken's inability to smother McIndoe's vicious free-kick. They were saved by an assistant referee's flag, apparently for offside.

Star man McIndoe smashed a glorious 20-yarder against the bar on 39 minutes, and Ifil also obliged with a goal-line clearance on the stroke of half-time, hoofing away McIndoe's inswinging corner.

The second period lacked the intensity of the first. City always had the edge, and they could sense victory when Gerken was forced to leave the action with a head injury.

That left young substitute keeper Mark Cousins with an uncomfortable eight minutes of normal time, and five minutes of injury-time, but he coped well with the pressure.

Just when the U's looked happy with a point, Lisbie nipped in front of Vasko and looked a good bet to score. He was brought crashing to the ground, but hopes of a dramatic win were dashed by Mr Hegley's decision not to award a penalty.

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