On-loan West Ham man shines as Colchester United deny promotion-chasing Wigan Athletic

Elliot Lee (number 12) celebrates with Joe Edwards after scoring early in the second half, to level

Elliot Lee (number 12) celebrates with Joe Edwards after scoring early in the second half, to level the score at 2-2 in the Colchester United v Wigan Athletic (Sky Bet League One) match at the Weston Homes Community Stadium, Colchester, on 12 March 2016. Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Time is running out for Colchester United, who are nine points adrift of safety with 10 games to go.

In the grand scheme of things, this draw did little for their chances of avoiding the drop, and nothing short of a miracle will preserve Kevin Keen’s side’s League One status now.

However, if Colchester can produce the same levels of skill and belief between now and the end of the season, then they may just produce the unthinkable for a fourth successive year.

Before kick-off, a draw with a team that were five points clear of third spot would no doubt have been snapped up by most U’s fans, despite their perilous state at the bottom of the division.

By the full-time whistle though, and despite a hearty round of applause from the home supporters, a sense of deflation filled the air – Colchester had gone so close to winning just their second game in the last 22 and ending the Latics’ 14-game unbeaten run.

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Not that you would have predicted such a scoreline after the first 20 minutes of so, Wigan completely dominating proceedings in what looked like a game of men versus boys.

Manager Kevin Keen had made five changes to the side that lost 2-0 at Port Vale last Saturday. Dropping out were Jamie Harney, Nicky Shorey, Gavin Massey, Chris Porter and Darren Ambrose, with Matt Briggs, Elliot Lee, Macauley Bonne, Leo Chambers and Femi Akinwande, making his senior debut, coming in.

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Such was Wigan’s dominance that they almost played with an air of complacency in the opening stages, Will Grigg squandering two golden opportunities in the space of a few seconds, Elliott Parish twice saving from the hitman who, had he shown more conviction, would have certainly given his side the lead.

That double save came after Chambers made a hash of clearing a Wigan attack and 10 minutes later, Joe Edwards was also caught in possession, but this time Parish denied Max Power an opening goal.

The U’s could not get out of their own half but were lifted when the impressive Lee took aim from the left side of the penalty box, forcing veteran Jussi Jaaskelainen into an impressive parried save.

Lee then saw two more shots blocked by defenders, in between Jaaskelainen making another superb stop, this time from Moncur as the U’s belief began to grow.

The statistics don’t lie though, 81 goals conceded before kick-off was all you needed to know about the hosts’ defensive frailties this season, and they reared their ugly head again as Wigan took the lead nine minutes before the break.

Defender Tom Eastman got the better of Grigg on the byline, but after doing so well, played a woefully under-hit pass that the striker capitalised on.

From there Grigg found Wildschut, who weaved his way into the box before firing low across Parish

The goal would usually see the U’s deflated and open to more punishment, especially against a team in the top two, but they showed grit and determination in abundance and were level four minutes later.

Gilbey picked the ball up just inside the Wigan half and moved forward unchallenged before unleashing a rocket from 30 yards that flew past Jaaskelainen

It was no more than the U’s deserved and Lee went close to giving the home team a half-time lead, dragging a left-footed shot across goal.

That profligacy was to prove costly though moments later, when Colclough converted, shooting through a crowded penalty area after good play down the left by Wildschut.

Again Colchester could have gone into the interval with their heads down but they returned in the second half with a renewed vigour.

Massey replaced Akinwande and Keen changed to a 4-4-2 formation.

The switch paid immediate dividends. Lee picked up the ball in centre field, having been moved up front alongside Bonne, Massey moving out to the right wing, with Moncur on the left.

Again Wigan were slow to close Lee down and from the edge of the box, the 21-year-old hit a rising left-foot shot that curled away from Jaaskelainen and into the top right-hand corner.

Two world-class strikes had beaten the experienced stopper and he was picking the ball out of his net again 10 minutes later.

Livewire Lee did well to make space for himself before releasing Moncur down the left.

With the goal in his sight, Moncur took on Reece Wabara and forced the full-back to bring him down in the box, referee Eddie Ilderton having no hesitation but to point to the spot. Moncur made no mistake from 12 yards and the U’s were in dreamland.

United were not exactly holding on after Moncur’s penalty, although Wigan did go close to equalising on three occasions, Wildschut shooting across goal, Donervon Daniels heading over and substitute Andy Kellett’s cross hitting the top of the bar.

Colchester looked set to hold on, until Grigg struck. Craig Davies launched a hopeful volley which took a big deflection and fell to Grigg who finished coolly.

There was still time for more drama after the equaliser, Colchester’s Edwards hitting a shot straight at Jaaskelainen and Wigan substitute Haris Vuckic flashing a shot wide of the far post.

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