Red card hard to swallow for U's

A TOUCH of magic from Teddy Sheringham and a sweet header from Kevin Lisbie should have been sufficient to earn Colchester United a first home win of the season.

By Carl Marston

A TOUCH of magic from Teddy Sheringham and a sweet header from Kevin Lisbie should have been sufficient to earn Colchester United a first home win of the season.

But the U's saw their two-goal advantage slip through their fingertips as visiting Charlton, with ex-U's favourite Chris Iwelumo playing a key role, poached a point.

It was a cracking game, played at break-neck speed. Geraint Williams' men were magnificent but once again they had to swallow a controversial refereeing decision that effectively cost them a couple of points.

Goals from Mark Yeates and Lisbie had put the U's in charge inside the first 38 minutes. If they had held out until half-time, then a win was there for the taking.

However, the Addicks snatched a goal in first-half stoppage time to halve the deficit, and give themselves a big lift for the second half. Iwelumo helped on Darren Ambrose's delivery and Svetoslav Todorov swept home from close range.

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The U's were still in the driving seat, until the game turned on a key incident on 55 minutes. Iwelumo and Matthew Connolly contested a long ball forward from substitute Andy Reid, and time seemed to stand still when Charlton's big striker crashed to the floor under Connolly's challenge. Referee Mike Russell initially took no action but changed his mind when spotting that his assistant had raised his flag.

The result was a red card for Connolly, dismissed for a professional foul, meaning that the U's had to play the final 35 minutes with just 10 men. It looked a harsh decision.

Charlton were level in the 73rd minute, as Chinese attacker Zheng Zhi drilled past Dean Gerken after substitute Luke Varney had won a header in the box. The Londoners had rallied from two down to beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-2 last month and a repeat appeared likely.

Remarkably, though, it was United rather than Charlton who had the best chances to take all three points during the closing stages.

Weaver stood up well to block Lisbie's goalbound shot following substitute Clive Platt's lay-off in the 80th minute and ex-Charlton trainee Kem Izzet was not far adrift with a long-range effort in stoppage time.

At the final whistle, it was difficult to fathom who was the most frustrated by the share of the spoils. Colchester for losing their two-goal lead or Charlton for failing to make the most of their numerical advantage late on?

The post-match reaction of the managers was very revealing. Addicks boss Alan Pardew seemed content with the point, though unhappy with the “sloppy start” from his side.

By contrast, U's manager Williams praised his players to the hilt and rued the sending-off decision that denied his team an almost certain victory.

Spurred on by some terrific wing play from Yeates, and the instinctive qualities of Sheringham, the U's took the initiative during an entertaining first-half - it was far removed from the lack-lustre beginning to their previous home game, a 3-2 defeat by Burnley.

The opener arrived in the 32nd minute. Sheringham and Yeates combined twice, with neat one-twos. It was Yeates who broke one tackle and then raced forwards to latch onto an inch-perfect ball from Sheringham. The ex-Tottenham winger took full advantage, tucking home a shot beyond the reach of Weaver for his second goal of the season.

Six minutes later and Lisbie's prayers were answered. The ex-Charlton front-runner jumped highest to nod home his third goal in as many games, from Johnnie Jackson's carefully flighted corner.

You could excuse Lisbie for his over-exuberant celebrations because his 11 years at Charlton had been beset by injuries and illness.

The two goals came from Colchester's first two shots on target, which was perhaps a little harsh on the visitors, who had been denied an opening goal themselves by Karl Duguid's terrific goal-line clearance from Iwelumo's close-range snap shot.

But the game swung away from the U's, just before and after half-time. Iwelumo was at the centre of attention, setting up Todorov's goal and then causing Connolly to make the lunge that resulted in a red card.

It was not surprising, then, that the warm applause that had greeted the Scotsman at the start of the afternoon was replaced by boos and even a few chants of “cheat” as he hobbled off the pitch suffering from cramp midway through the second-half. There is no such thing as sentiment in football.

Predictably, summer signings Lisbie and Iwelumo shared the headlines for their fluctuating fortunes against their old clubs - Lisbie was also thwarted by a spectacular save from Weaver before the hour mark, which would have put the U's 3-1 up.

Charlton, a Premier League outfit only a few months ago, were just happy to avoid defeat.

That says a lot for the respect that Colchester now demand in the Championship.