Rush of memories ends U's sad campaign

ON any other day, this game would have slipped out of the memory within a few weeks, written off as a dour defeat at the hands of a strapping Stoke side.

Carl Marston

ON any other day, this game would have slipped out of the memory within a few weeks, written off as a dour defeat at the hands of a strapping Stoke side.

But Saturday, April 26, 2008, was no ordinary day at Layer Road. It didn't really matter whether the U's and the Potters served up a stinker, or a belter. For the vast majority of a capacity crowd, the result was irrelevant.

Which was just as well, really, because the U's slumped to their 11th home defeat of the season to ensure that they will end this sorry Championship campaign with the least number of wins in the club's history (the previous lowest was nine).

Ironically, the best bits of the afternoon were when the two teams were not even on the pitch! The U's faithful were treated to some colourful pre-match entertainment, before a procession of former star players were introduced to the masses at half-time, and the player-of-the-year presentations were staged after the final whistle.

After 101 years of this famous Layer Road ground staging football, beginning with the Army in 1907 and then the old amateur Colchester Town from 1909, the curtain finally came down on competitive first team action, just before 5pm on Saturday.

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It will be all change next season - a new division (League One) and a new stadium (Cuckoo Farm). But that is all in the future.

While Colchester fans were determined to enjoy the afternoon, and cherish every second whatever the result, it was an altogether very different experience for Stoke.

The visitors could have secured automatic promotion to the Premiership if they had beaten the U's and Hull City had failed to beat Crystal Palace. They achieved their half of the bargain, but Palace conceded a late winner at the KC Stadium, much to the joy of play-off rivals Ipswich.

A terrible first half ended like so many have done this season - with the U's leaking a goal. Richard Cresswell's scrappy effort was to prove the only goal of the game.

Stoke's main attacking weapon was Rory Delap's long throws into the box, a ploy that the U's pursued to good effect in their promotion-winning campaign of two years ago, with Greg Halford as the long throw specialist.

United coped well with this threat for most of the afternoon, with just one notable exception. Delap's latest long throw, in the first minute of injury-time, was allowed to bounce inside the six-yard box. Cresswell's initial header was superbly clawed off the goal-line by Dean Gerken, but Liam Lawrence stabbed the ball back into the six-yard box, where Cresswell kneed it over the line from point-blank range.

That goal prompted Stoke fans to dream about the Premiership during the half-time interval, while their Colchester counterparts were paying tribute to some heroes of yesteryear.

And how Geraint Williams' side could done with a few of those former greats during the second half! Strikers of the calibre of Martyn King and Tony Adcock were introduced to the crowd, having plundered more than 200 goals between them for the U's, but the current class of 2007-08 could not produce a deadly finish in the manner of a King or Adcock.

Stoke continued to boss possession, giving the U's no time to settle on the ball. In fact, United did not register an attempt on goal until deep into injury-time.

Substitute Clive Platt headed home a cross by John White in the third minute of injury-time, only for the goal to be ruled out for a foul, and Kevin Lisbie nearly squeezed a shot past keeper Carlo Nash right at the death.

The final piece of action, ever to be staged at Layer Road, was Dean Hammond's shot whistling over the bar.

The ball took a deflection off a defender, but there was no time for the corner to be taken.

Time has finally run out on Layer Road. But the memories will live on.