So near, yet so far for U's

SO NEAR, and yet so far. That's been the story of Colchester United's disappointing second season in the Championship.Already condemned to League One football next season, United are still aiming to finish the campaign with a flurry, with a target of clambering off the basement.

Carl Marston

SO NEAR, and yet so far.

That's been the story of Colchester United's disappointing second season in the Championship.

Already condemned to League One football next season, United are still aiming to finish the campaign with a flurry, with a target of clambering off the basement.

And Geraint Williams' men were poised to leapfrog Scunthorpe, with time running out at the Walkers Stadium on Saturday. Kevin Lisbie had bagged his 17th goal of the season, to leave hosts Leicester City in desperate straits.

Yet just when it appeared as though the U's would be celebrating back-to-back victories for the first time in a year, as well as their first back-to-back clean-sheets in that period, up popped Foxes substitute Iain Hume to poach an 89th minute equaliser.

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Leicester fans had been fully expecting their team to take all three points against the Championship's bottom club, but in the end they were just relieved to snatch a draw. That one point was enough to lift them out of the bottom three, on goal difference from Sheffield Wednesday.

It was another frustrating finale for the U's. In their previous away fixture, they had been leading West Brom 3-2 heading into injury-time, only to leak two late goals and so lose 4-3.

Their failure to hold onto leads, coupled with the worst defensive record in the division, have been the prime reasons for their relegation. And yet there were more pluses than negatives to come out of Saturday's duel.

If the U's can hold onto their prize assets this summer, including red-hot striker Lisbie, promising keeper Dean Gerken, and ever-improving midfielder Johnnie Jackson, then they should feature prominently in League One, in the comfortable surroundings of their new Community Stadium.

The new defensive partnership of Chris Coyne and Matt Heath, flanked by young full-backs John White and Phil Ifil, has the makings of a solid back four unit, a feature that has been sadly lacking over the last year.

Ex-Luton skipper Coyne and Heath, who is on loan from Leeds United until the end of the season, have played alongside each other in just two games, the 2-0 win over Ipswich and Saturday's draw. The prospect of a Coyne-Heath double act in League One is an encouraging one, if United can sign Heath on a permanent deal this summer.

Of course there are a lot of “ifs,” but there should still be much to look forward to next season, especially with the Essex club's re-structuring of the ticket pricing for the new ground. Hopefully, season tickets will now sell well, and attendances will be healthy. That is the key to the U's long-term future.

Last season's goalless draw at the Walkers Stadium, which was the first ever meeting between the two clubs, was a drab affair, and Saturday was following suit until the last quarter-of-an-hour.

Leicester had started with a bang, and they peppered Dean Gerken's goal during the opening 20 minutes. But their confidence soon drained away, not least when Gerken superbly saved from DJ Campbell, who had been put clean through on goal.

Barry Hayles, a livewire at the age of 35, had a goal ruled out for offside in the 53rd minute. The former Jamaican international headed home David Bell's cross, only to have his celebrations curtailed by an assistant referee's flag.

Instead, it was another ex-Jamaican striker who broke the deadlock. Lisbie had been thwarted by a good save from Paul Henderson in the 63rd minute - his long-range shot was diverted over the bar - but he made no mistake with a slick header from Jackson's exquisite cross on 76 minutes.

Leicester threw caution to the wind, in search of an equaliser, and substitute Hume finally obliged by reacting first to Lee Hendrie's lofted pass, which was deflected into his path. The former Tranmere front-runner headed beyond Gerken from just six yards out.

But it was to Colchester's credit that it was they, and not Leicester, who looked the more likely to steal an injury-time winner. Jackson sliced a shot wide, and Lisbie headed over the bar, as the Foxes held on grimly.

Once again, the U's had come within a whisker of taking all three points, only to be ultimately disappointed. But the long-term future looks a little more encouraging.

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