Report/Gallery: Colchester United 2-2 Scunthorpe United – George Elokobi rescues a late draw as the U’s finish August winless
A winless August may have dashed all memories of the spectacular escape from relegation in May. For some, those champagne bubbles may have finally popped.
But despite the summer drought, Colchester United have battled back from losing positions at either end of the month to remain undefeated at home in the league. On Saturday, George Elokobi rose to be the hero, leaping at the back post to head home a corner and salvage a late point in a contest the hosts will want to be remembered for their attitude rather than their aptitude.
For after the fearsome foursome from Fleetwood midweek came an early quickfire double from Scunthorpe United, the visitors to the Weston Homes Community Stadium. The pair of strikes, notched up in the seventh and 18th minutes, exposed glaring faults in Colchester’s backline.
“We are not learning. You cannot have a mountain to climb every game,” bemoaned a clearly exasperated Tony Humes, the U’s boss, as he launched a scathing attack on his side’s questionable approach to the art of defending.
A lot of the damage was self-inflicted. Centre-back Tom Eastman, in an otherwise impressive performance, scythed a marauding opponent around 25 yards from goal. He escaped a booking but not the consequences.
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Dutchman Kevin Van Veen, distinguished by his medical headband and touch of flair, positioned the ball and lined up his target. It was a fine, right-footed curled free kick which narrowly scaled the wall but lacked any perceivable dangerous whip or pace. However, Elliott Parish, the number 33 in goal for Colchester, failed to divert the ball around the far post when scrambling to his right.
It was a body blow for the home side after they had started with energy and enthusiasm. Owen Garvan was on the bench but fellow newcomer Callum Harriott motored down both flanks and outwitted his markers on a number of occasions with an array of tricks and turns. The 21-year-old, on loan from Charlton Athletic until January, was joined by counterpart Gavin Massey in creating a display of perpetual motion for sustained periods in attack.
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But the wingers were also guilty of committing inexcusable errors. Harriott fired crosses too low or too high, including one in to the crowd, while in the opening exchanges Massey knocked the ball past two defenders near the touchline but, despite his sharp turn of foot, out of play.
They were not helped by striker Macauley Bonne, who struggled to hold up play without conceding possession, rather meekly at times.
Then came the second. A long, seemingly innocuous overhead pass from the left wing landed in a gaping berth between Colchester’s defence and goalkeeper. Latching on to the loose ball with poise, Paddy Madden raced in to the box and calmly side-footed with power an effort in to the near post when confronted by Parish. It had all the hallmarks of a classic Sunday league howler.
Moments later, it was nearly three when Madden met a superb cross from the left at the back post and, unchallenged, sent his cushioned and elegant volley just over the bar. The brittle defence needed berating and, more importantly, bolstering.
Yet Colchester responded with the right spirit, passing and moving, challenging and scrapping, which in turn prevented any time for their supporters to whip up an air of discontent.
There was one moment, though, when Alex Gilbey made a hash of a quick free-kick and lost the ball again seconds later. He received the inevitable loud “wake up” jeer from one peeved spectator.
But just after the half-hour mark, the U’s had halved the deficit. Eastman’s brilliant cross-field pass found Massey, now on the left wing. His excellent first touch with his thigh wrong-footed the right-back and allowed him to race in to the box, where he was undeniably taken off his feet by the same defender who was desperate to make amends. But just as the referee was putting the whistle to his lips, George Moncur swept home the loose ball. Suddenly, there was a different complexion. Harriott struck a quick free-kick over. Gilbey’s shot was hacked away. Left-back Matt Briggs delivered a cross which was toe-punted towards the corner by Joe Edwards and pushed wide for a corner.
The U’s pressed and chased for a leveller after the break but the Iron were, once again, very neatly organised by manager Mark Robins. They were defying their dismal away record in the league so far this season of playing two and losing two; leaking five and scoring just once.
Colchester’s wingers remained endlessly inventive and industrious though, weaving in to the box and linking up well with others in attack, but occasionally lacked either the vision or technique to really cut deep in to the heart of the Scunthorpe defence.
They were supported by Garvan, a half-time reinforcement who showed his ring awareness when deflecting a low, hazardous cross out for a corner. His general play was deliberate and safe in front of the defence, providing a reassuring and calming presence in what had been an often chaotic part of the pitch.
Scunthorpe forward Darius Henderson, who looked in pre- pre-season shape, won headers but was largely ineffective. The stadium announcer, when later informing everyone of Henderson’s rather laboured departure, barked: “Come on Darius, time to come off now!”
But it was time for Colchester to “come on” with fewer than 10 minutes remaining. Marriott curled in a corner he had won from the right and Elokobi, the commanding defender who takes no prisoners, nodded a header down and in to the back of the net.
It was game on again, with both sides bursting into life and going for gold. Scunthorpe’s Madden fired straight at Parish. In a smart move the other end, Garvan fed Marriott whose chipped through ball just eclipsed the reach of substitute Sammie Szmodics. Time ran out and both sides would have to settle for a point.
To summarise for August, of the nine hours of cup and league football played, Colchester have been in the lead for just one minute. Of all the facts and figures that could be derived from the burgeoning campaign, surely this is the most troublesome for Humes, as he plots his September rising.