Positives can't dispel cloud of despair

THERE were many positives to take out of Colchester United's performance, but alas, the stark reality is that relegation has become even more of a certainty.

Carl Marston

THERE were many positives to take out of Colchester United's performance, but alas, the stark reality is that relegation has become even more of a certainty.

On the plus side, the U's halted a run of five straight defeats, scored a great goal through Johnnie Jackson, created a host of other chances, and generally bossed the game.

Added to this, teenage winger Medy Elito enjoyed a full debut, new loan signing Matt Heath impressed in defence, and Kevin Lisbie was the best player on the park.

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It seems little harsh, therefore, to highlight the few negatives. But the main statistic has to be stated - the U's remain hopelessly marooned at the foot of the Championship table, and are now a massive 11 points adrift of safety with just eight matches remaining.

While United were dropping another two points at Layer Road, fourth-from-bottom Leicester City were romping to an eye-catching 4-1 win at promotion candidates West Brom. The Foxes have leapfrogged Coventry in the table.

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Most U's fans have now accepted the inevitable, and that they will be watching League One football at the new Community Stadium next season. Their team has won only six of their 40 league and cup matches, and they will need to win six of their last eight to stand a chance of beating the drop.

So it's best not to dwell too much on the U's current Championship plight. The Layer Road faithful certainly appreciated the effort and endeavour packed into 90 minutes against Cardiff.

Despite losing 17 league games this season, all but four of these have been by the odd goal. It's been that tight.

And a familiar tale looked like unfolding when Cardiff, who are looking forward to an FA Cup semi-final date against Barnsley, took the lead with their first attack of the afternoon in the 11th minute.

Paul Parry controlled the ball, following a throw-in, and turned swiftly to let fly with a measured shot that soared into the top corner of the net. It was perfect placement from Parry, who duly celebrated his ninth goal of the season.

But the basement dwellers refused to cave in. To their credit, Geraint Williams' men played with confidence and a new-found freedom not seen for several weeks. Perhaps the inevitability of relegation has eased the pressure?

Two key moments in the second-half decided the outcome. Firstly, Cardiff striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was rather harshly sent off for his high challenge on keeper Dean Gerken in the 62nd minute.

Hasselbaink's outstretched boot ploughed into the face of Gerken, as the duo contested a loose ball that had drifted over Adam Virgo. It was a nasty moment, and Gerken required some treatment before being able to continue.

But Hasselbaink had made a genuine attempt to reach the ball, so the ex-Leeds, Chelsea and Middlesbrough striker could feel aggrieved to be flashed the red card. He now faces a three-match suspension, although the Welsh club will probably appeal the decision.

Fortunately, Cardiff have three more league games before their FA Cup showdown with Barnsley (on April 6), so he should be eligible for that Wembley date.

The U's had been the better side before Cardiff were reduced to 10 men, and they finally netted the equaliser in the 71st minute.

Johnnie Jackson has been in a rich vein of scoring form during the second half of the campaign, and the former Tottenham midfielder chalked up his seventh of the season with a wonder goal that eclipsed even Parry's quality strike.

Full debutant Elito received Karl Duguid's short corner and delivered a cross which was diverted into the path of Jackson. He instinctively connected with a half-volley, from 22 yards out, that flew past Peter Enckelman and into the roof of the net.

It was no more than Colchester deserved, and they still had 19 minutes in which to fashion an equaliser. However, 10-man Cardiff weathered the late storm, which included four corners pumped into their six-yard box during stoppage time. The visitors were really hanging on at the end.

The U's will also point to a couple of earlier incidents, which perhaps summed up their dismal season.

Lisbie was a livewire, especially in the first-half, and he seemed to be tugged back while trying to shoot for goal in the 26th minute. Manager Williams described it as a “stone-wall penalty,” but referee Kevin Wright was not convinced.

Four minutes later and Lisbie was denied a 14th goal of the season by the width of a post. His close-range shot looped over Enckelman, but cannoned back off the far upright.

In truth, then, Jackson's second-half pearler should have been the winner, rather than just an equaliser. But that tells the tale of the U's whole season - so near and yet so far!

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