Survival within U's

COLCHESTER United are not playing like a side who are marooned at the foot of the table. They might be propping up the Championship, but survival is within their capabilities.

Carl Marston

COLCHESTER United are not playing like a side who are marooned at the foot of the table. They might be propping up the Championship, but survival is within their capabilities.

The statistics are not very encouraging, not least the mere one clean-sheet in 32 games this season, and a current run of just two wins in 20.

But these awful figures should not be taken at just face value. There is an inner belief that the U's, against the odds, can escape the clutches of relegation. They have 16 games left in which to save themselves, nine at home and seven on the road.

The away form is heartening, as confirmed by Saturday's performance at play-off chasing Burnley. Unlike last season, when the U's engineered a smash-and-grab victory at Turf Moor, prompting former manager Steve Cotterill to advise the visitors to leave “wearing sombreros,” the U's were good value for their point this time around.

Current Clarets Owen Coyle said as much in the post-match press conference, while his opposite number Geraint Williams felt that United could have taken all three points on the back of a good first-half display.

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Many teams, stuck in the relegation mire, would have waved the white flag after first hitting the post, and then conceding a goal via an unlucky ricochet off one of their own players. But not this Colchester team.

Relegated clubs often point to a series of hard luck stories to explain their fate, and the U's could have been forgiven for feeling sorry for themselves when Clive Platt's volley, from Kevin McLeod's cross, cannoned back off the far post in the 20th minute.

As if to rub salt into the wounds, Burnley went straight down the other end to break the deadlock with a typical poacher's strike from Andy Cole, the ex-England and Manchester United striker who has made a career out of feeding off defensive lapses.

When Wade Elliott's hopeful cross rebounded off defender Chris Coyne and trickled into his path, Cole's eyes instantly lit up as he gleefully slid home the rebound from eight yards out.

It was the 36-year-old's first goal for his new club, following his loan move from Sunderland. It was also the perfect way for him to mark his Clarets home debut.

Cole was a livewire all afternoon. He has now bagged 224 league goals during a distinguished career, but to Colchester's credit, he never had a clear sight of goal again.

They say that bad luck comes in threes. True to form, following Platt's woodwork woe and Coyne's defensive lapse, the U's then suffered an injury blow. Leading marksman Kevin Lisbie turned his ankle and limped off - all three body blows had been condensed into a six-minute spell.

But the U's heads did not go down, and they were deservedly level via a deserved slice of good fortune in the 38th minute. Substitute Scott Vernon, an early replacement for Lisbie, earned a free-kick when he was fouled by David Unsworth.

It was certainly not the way that Unsworth wanted to mark his 500th career game, because Johnnie Jackson's hopeful 25-yarder from the ensuing free-kick took a wicked deflection off the defensive wall and squirmed into the net, beyond the despairing dive of keeper Brian Jensen.

Jackson is becoming a specialist of scoring goals by wrong-footing opposing keepers with deflected free-kicks. Saturday's effort was an almost exact replica of his previous weekend's free-kick against Sheffield United, which was eventually credited as a Jon Stead own goal.

The first-half went full circle when Burnley then rattled the woodwork, just a minute after Jackson's equaliser. Robbie Blake's curling free-kick clipped the far post and rolled to safety.

Both sides had therefore hit the post as well as scoring a goal apiece in the first period. And that was really the story of the whole game, because the second-half was devoid of serious goal-mouth action.

The Clarets shaded the possession, but they rarely looked like breaking down a stubborn Colchester defence. John White produced an outstanding display at left-back, keeping tricky winger Wade Elliott in his pocket, and likewise Tottenham loanee Phil Ifil won the battle against Northern Ireland international Kyle Lafferty.

Kevin McLeod also caught the eye, on his first start for a month. The ex-Everton winger filled the void left by Mark Yeates, who is currently nursing a dislocated shoulder.

But now the U's have to start winning at home. A battling point in the Pennines will count for nothing if they don't beat visiting Preston tomorrow evening.

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