Sea air brings out best and worst in U's

THERE must be something about the sea air that brings out the best, and the worst, in Colchester United.Three years ago, Kevin Watson scored a superb equaliser against the run of play to salvage a 1-1 draw beside the seaside at Blackpool.

By Carl Marston

THERE must be something about the sea air that brings out the best, and the worst, in Colchester United.

Three years ago, Kevin Watson scored a superb equaliser against the run of play to salvage a 1-1 draw beside the seaside at Blackpool. But that match ended in a full-scale brawl between both sets of players.

The following campaign, Greg Halford obliged with a stunning brace of goals to claim a last-ditch 2-1 win at the same Bloomfield Road venue. The U's star scored the winner in the fourth minute of stoppage time, just two minutes after Tommy Wright had poached a dramatic equaliser for the hosts.

And there was just as much drama at Blackpool on Saturday. The best of Colchester was again on display, in the guise of wonder boy Mark Yeates, who stroked home two marvellous free-kicks.

And yet the worst was also evident. There was no brawl this time around, but slack marking from two corners enabled the Seasiders to take a point, via goals from Andrew Morrell and Shaun Barker.

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It all added up to an afternoon of amazing strikes, and sloppy defending. Emotions were mixed at the final whistle. Once again, the U's had shown great resilience to bounce back not just once, but twice, with quality equalisers; but once again, they had let two points slip through their fingers.

The score was blank at half-time, and few would have bet against this Championship clash ending in a goalless stalemate.

Blackpool have enjoyed a fine start to the season, following their promotion via the play-offs in May, and they came the closest to breaking the deadlock when striker Ben Burgess rattled Aidan Davison's near post with a thunderous drive in the 38th minute.

The U's had good chances of their own. Adam Virgo had retained his place at the heart of defence, despite Matthew Connolly's availability after suspension, and he forced keeper Paul Rachubka into a save from close range following Yeates' corner.

Kem Izzet hobbled off injured at half-time, and did not appear for the start of the second-half, but not before he too had peppered the target with a low shot just after the half-hour mark, after Clive Platt had won a downward header.

But all the excitement was condensed into a topsy-turvy second-half, illustrating just why the U's are the leading goalscorers in the division, while also possessing a leaky defence.

Blackpool took the lead on 54 minutes. Tricky winger David Fox whipped over a corner which substitute Kaspars Gorkss flicked on, and predator Morrell was in the right place to stab home at the far post. It was the ex-Wrexham man's fourth goal of the season.

Simon Grayson's men almost doubled their lead in the 61st minute. If Davison had not managed to palm away Burgess' rocket shot with a strong right hand, then Blackpool would probably have coasted to victory.

Yet three minutes later and Yeates turned the course of the game with the first of his sensational strikes.

Kevin McLeod was fouled 25 yards from goal, and up stepped Yeates to curl his free-kick around the wall and into the net via a big deflection off the near post.

The Dubliner celebrated in front of the joyous U's travelling supporters.

Yeates' fourth goal of the season set up an intriguing final quarter of the game. Both sides were committed to attack, and it was the U's inability to defend from a corner that allowed the tangerine-clad hosts to regain their lead in the 84th minute.

Barker had scored an own goal, while in the colours of Rotherham, during the U's important final home game of the promotion campaign of 2005-06. Phil Parkinson's men won that match 2-0 to help secure automatic promotion.

But more than a year later and Barker was the scourge of Colchester when sending a looping header into the net from another Fox corner. United were surely beaten? Yeates had other ideas.

Substitute Jamie Guy was dragged back to earn the U's a free-kick in an almost identical position to Yeates' first effort.

The Blackpool fans held their breath, although secretly they probably assumed that lightning would not strike twice.

But it did. Yeates' cleanly-struck free-kick dipped in at the near post, outwitting keeper Rachubka for a second time.

Yeates' goals were worthy of winning any match. Alas, for the fifth time in seven league meetings, they were enough for just one point.