The going gets even tougher for U's

THIS season was always going to be the toughest in Colchester United's history. But three matches and three defeats later, and it has suddenly become a whole lot tougher.

By Carl Marston

THIS season was always going to be the toughest in Colchester United's history. But three matches and three defeats later, and it has suddenly become a whole lot tougher.

For the first time on Saturday, Geraint Williams' men got their noses in front, thanks to Greg Halford's clinical header from Jamie Cureton's 42nd-minute cross.

The U's were in a good position to collect their first points in the Championship, in what is their first-ever season of competing in the second tier of the Football League.

But the harsh reality of their new surroundings came home to roost in a disappointing second-half display, which allowed visiting Barnsley to wrest control and run out 2-1 winners.

United simply failed to perform after the break. The Tykes, who had rallied from two-down to beat Phil Parkinson's Hull City 3-2 in midweek, again displayed their resilience to turn the tables on the opposition.

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Marc Richards headed them level with a close-range header from Michael McIndoe's teasing cross in the 57th minute, and Brian Howard conjured up a spectacular winner on 78 minutes.

U's keeper Aidan Davison must be fed up of being beaten by quality, long-range strikes. Davison was powerless to prevent Plymouth's Luke McCormick from drilling home a thunderbolt last Tuesday night, with what proved to be the only goal of the game, and the 38-year-old custodian was rooted to the spot as Howard blasted home an unstoppable 25-yarder on Saturday.

Unlucky to be beaten at Birmingham City and by Plymouth, the U's did not really deserve any reward from this third fixture. Williams has his hands full trying to get his side's season up and running.

Of course these are still very early days, and Colchester are not the only ones struggling to break their duck in the Championship - East Anglian neighbours Ipswich, fallen giants Sunderland and Hull, managed by former U's boss Parkinson, have also suffered three defeats on the bounce.

But Colchester cannot really afford to let some early daylight appear between themselves and the rest of the division over the coming weeks. Hampered by a wafer-thin squad, their confidence and self-belief will start draining away if they don't stop the rot soon.

As manager Williams admitted after Saturday's defeat: “There is a buzz around the town, and we are enjoying being in the Championship. But we are not enjoying being beaten!”

Losing such key players as Neil Danns, Liam Chilvers and Mark Yeates from last season's promotion-clinching squad, Williams and his assistant Mick Harford must endeavour to replace them before the transfer deadline at the end of this month.

By contrast Barnsley, who also won promotion last May, via the play-offs, seem better equipped to deal with the new challenge of the Championship.

It was a first half of chances galore for both sides. The U's had a great opportunity to break the deadlock in the 37th minute, prompted by a powerful break from Halford. The 21-year-old, who was operating as a right-midfielder rather than a right-back, found Kem Izzet deep inside the box. Izzet delayed shooting just a shade too long, and keeper Nick Colgan was able to drop at the home player's feet to smother the danger.

Five minutes later and Colchester did take the lead, thanks to Halford's first goal since he netted a brace against Gillingham last November.

Hopes were high among the Layer Road faithful at the break, with their team ahead and playing well. But it soon became clear that the hosts would be on the rack in the second period.

The U's cause was not helped by an injury to Johnnie Jackson, who limped off with a leg problem within three minutes of the restart. By that stage, Barnsley had already gone close to an equaliser on a couple of occasions.

Marc Richards had squandered some good opportunities in the first half, but he finally hit the target with a header from close-in on 57 minutes. It was his second goal of the season.

United struggled to break out of their own half. Halford sliced a shot wide from Richard Garcia's delivery in the 62nd minute, and Jamie Guy gave the home side some much-needed impetus following his appearance as a substitute for the final 21 minutes. Guy was not afraid to run at the Tykes defence.

But Barnsley settled the issue with 12 minutes remaining. Howard's bullet out-of-the-blue, from Sam Togwell's pass, ended up in the far corner of the net.

There was no way back for Colchester, and their next stop is West Brom, one of the promotion favourites, next weekend. Life in the Championship was never going to be easy!

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