Sending-off sees U's struggling again

COLCHESTER United are shooting themselves in the foot too often this season, and it's usually been at home against teams who have been grateful to escape with any reward.

By Carl Marston

COLCHESTER United are shooting themselves in the foot too often this season, and it's usually been at home against teams who have been grateful to escape with any reward.

Dropping vital points at Layer Road, through unwanted red cards or conceding sloppy goals, has left Geraint Williams' men sitting precariously just one point above the relegation zone.

It's so frustrating for a team to produce heroics to claim a 2-2 draw at league leaders Watford, only to then undo all this good work with a home defeat in the next game, at the hands of struggling Crystal Palace.


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The confidence that had been oozing, from their previous exploits at Vicarage Road, had dried up within eight minutes of a frustrating Championship clash on Saturday.

Palace, without a victory in nine games, broke the deadlock early when James Scowcroft benefited from hesitancy by Bela Balogh to deliver a low cross for Clinton Morrison to sweep home from six yards out.

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Trailing after just six minutes, the U's were then reduced to 10 men just two minutes later. Paul Ifill managed to sneak behind the U's defence and was brought down by Pat Baldwin. The ex-Millwall front-runner was through on goal, so Baldwin was duly sent off for a professional foul.

Manager Williams had no complaints with the decision. The Welshman was more critical of his side's poor defending.

As has happened so often this season, the U's rallied in the face of adversity. They have proved, time and time again, that they have the character to claw themselves back into games. But ultimately, they cannot afford to play catch-up every week. They will eventually been caught out.

That was the case on Saturday. Palace were second best for the remainder of the first-half, despite their one-man advantage, and they had their Argentine keeper, Julian Speroni, to thank for several top-class saves.

Speroni twice thwarted Kevin Lisbie with acrobatic saves, the first from a fierce shot and the second from a goal-bound header, but the ex-Dundee keeper was powerless to prevent Johnnie Jackson from drilling home a 69th-minute equaliser. Jackson had been operating to good effect as a central midfielder for most of the match, following the sacrifice of Kem Izzet to make way for substitute Matthew Connolly after Baldwin's dismissal.

The former Tottenham midfielder had peppered the target from long range on a couple of occasions, before he burst onto Mark Yeates' delightful through ball to crash home an unstoppable shot, which cannoned in off the far post.

It was a deserved leveller for United, but it was Palace rather than the home side who stepped up another gear. Morrison regained the lead just five minutes later, nodding home his second of the afternoon from Shaun Derry's headed delivery, to seal victory. It was his 102nd goal for the south London club.

Keeper Dean Gerken insisted that he had been impeded by Scowcroft, while trying to punch away the cross, a sentiment echoed by his defenders. But manager Williams was again reluctant to criticise the referee. He had seen his side let slip another point.

With the exception of Teddy Sheringham's last minute dismissal at Coventry City, in a 1-0 defeat, the U's have really been punished by their four red cards this season, and that doesn't include the sending-off of Clive Platt in pre-season, that led to the big man missing three games.

Gerken's 26th-minute departure for a professional foul effectively cost the U's a first victory of the season against Barnsley - in the end, the Tykes were happy with a 2-2 draw.

Likewise, Charlton were content with a point from a 2-2 draw on their visit to Layer Road, despite the U's again being reduced to 10 men with Connolly's 55th minute sending-off.

And you get the feeling that United would have avoided defeat against Palace, if they had not had to play the final 82 minutes with just 10 men. Baldwin has been the club's premier centre-half this season, and his loss was not helped by an unconvincing performance from Hungarian international Balogh.

Of course an unwanted red card does not just a hinder a team on the day - the ensuing suspension can also prove damaging, not least with Sheringham's recent three-match ban.

The 41-year-old's injury-time dismissal at Coventry did not effect the result, but the U's seriously missed his presence in the subsequent home games against Leicester and Plymouth.

Williams has promised changes for Wednesday's trip to Wolves.

Top of the agenda will be improving the way that his team starts games. Otherwise, it could be a long, hard winter ahead.

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