Shrimpers too sharp for U's

COLCHESTER United were outsmarted and outgunned by top dogs Southend, their deadliest of rivals, in an embarrassingly one-sided Essex derby showdown at Layer Road on Saturday.

By Carl Marston

COLCHESTER United were outsmarted and outgunned by top dogs Southend, their deadliest of rivals, in an embarrassingly one-sided Essex derby showdown at Layer Road on Saturday.

The U's were left bloodied and bowed, but they are far from down-and-out. The hard work starts now, if they are not to let all the successes of this fantastic season go to waste.

Super-confident Southend raced into a three-goal lead, with a little more than half-an-hour on the clock, and they maintained this healthy advantage for the rest of the afternoon.

Goals from red-hot marksman Freddy Eastwood, strong midfielder Kevin Maher and lively left-back Che Wilson propelled the Shrimpers out of sight, long before the half-time whistle. It was then just a case of damage limitation from out-of-sorts Colchester, who never looked like finding a route back into this game.

The U's will be pleased to see the back of Southend. They have not won this Essex derby for 17 years, having been outwitted time-and-time again in both league and cup duels.

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Steve Tilson's men look good bets for automatic promotion. They have lost just one of their last 17 games, and are now six points clear of second-placed Huddersfield at the top of League One.

It would be a second successive promotion campaign for the Roots Hall club, who were in League Two this time last year.

The U's have only conceded three goals in a match three times this season. Premiership champions Chelsea notched a 3-1 win over Phil Parkinson's side in the fifth round of the FA Cup, while Southend have achieved the feat twice, having also won 3-1 at Roots Hall on Bank Holiday Monday, August 29.

The sun shone warmly on the Shrimpers that day, and a weaker sun returned to thaw the Layer Road pitch and so ensure a league double for the visitors on Saturday. They thrilled the travelling fans, and no doubt also the 2,000 who were watching the action unfold on the big screen back at Roots Hall.

But enough of Southend. Their destiny is in their own hands. Colchester, despite a rotten run of no wins in five games, and just one point mustered from a possible 12 in the league, still have much to look forward to during the final couple of months of the campaign.

It all depends on how the U's react to this latest, heavy defeat. On the negative side, they have not scored in their last four league fixtures, have dropped to fifth in the table, and are even in danger of slipping out of the play-off zone in the coming weeks - they travel to seventh-placed Oldham Athletic next weekend.

But on the plus side, they are still only two points behind second-placed Huddersfield, with two games in hand. They have a chance to reach the Millennium Stadium, with their two-legged LDV Vans Trophy southern area final to come against Swansea (the first leg is in south Wales tomorrow), and they have managed to steer clear of injuries and suspensions.

It is very difficult to sound upbeat after such a comprehensive defeat, at the hands of their bitter local rivals, but stick with the U's - they are not in the promotion shake-up for nothing. These remain exciting times.

The three-day break in Portugal, though, certainly didn't have the desired effect. The trip was supposed to recharge the batteries, but the hosts were left chasing shadows by a rampant Southend.

The opener arrived in the 10th minute. Keeper Aidan Davison will be disappointed not to have dealt with Eastwood's downward header, from Luke Guttridge's left-wing cross.

The U's keeper was down early, but he was unable to prevent Eastwood's innocuous header from rolling into the far corner of the net. It was the former Grays striker's 17th goal of the season, and it knocked the hosts firmly onto the back foot.

The Shrimpers doubled their tally in the 21st minute, thanks to a sweeping move and a cool finish. The excellent Eastwood flew down the right wing, with John White out of position, and ghosted past Wayne Brown.

Eastwood slid the ball through for fellow striker Shaun Goater, and when the ex-Manchester City rolled his pass into the path of Maher, the Irishman found the back of the net with a low shot from 15 yards out. It was Maher's first goal in 14 months.

Colchester just could not get going. The majority of their shots were from distance, outside the box, which hardly troubled keeper Darryl Flahavan.

His opposite number Davison blocked Eastwood's thunderbolt on the half-hour, but the U's custodian was beaten for a third time in the 32nd minute. Full-back Wilson, who had scored the first goal of his career only three months earlier against Brentford, celebrated his second after latching onto Goater's flick and beating Davison from a narrow angle.

The U's enjoyed the bulk of the possession in the second-half, but they rarely threatened a rally. Neil Danns forced Flahavan into a tumbling save with his long-range shot in the 75th minute, and the luckless Richard Garcia rattled the bar with his rising shot on 87 minutes.

This was Colchester's first home defeat since the 1-0 loss to visitors Bournemouth on October 15, ending a superb run that had featured 12 straight home wins and a draw.

They are in a rut at the moment, but don't count them out. This could still be the most successful season in the club's history!

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