Time is fast running out for U's

TIME is fast running out for Colchester United to avoid the trap-door into League One.The U's did not play badly against Wolves on Saturday, but in the end it was a familiar tale of woe.

Carl Marston

TIME is fast running out for Colchester United to avoid the trap-door into League One.

The U's did not play badly against Wolves on Saturday, but in the end it was a familiar tale of woe.

Nothing went right for Geraint Williams' men, from the moment that Teddy Sheringham announced his end-of-season retirement in the morning, to the moment when referee Iain Williamson blew the final whistle, just seconds after the U's had spurned a great chance to equalise.

United failed to keep a clean sheet, for the 32nd successive game, and were punished for an individual error that led to Sylvan Ebanks-Blake's 30th minute winner. They also had their lengthy list of injured players extended from eight to nine, with skipper Karl Duguid's first-half withdrawal with a sore ankle.

A seventh home defeat of the season has also left the U's rooted to the Championship basement, due to Scunthorpe's 2-1 victory over Coventry. They are three points adrift at the bottom, and five points from safety.

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On the plus side - for the eternal optimist - there are still 36 points to play for, with six home and six away games remaining.

New recruit Izzy McLeod, signed from Charlton on Friday, enjoyed 50 minutes of action as a substitute for Duguid, and he should offer the U's more firepower during the busy month of March.

Midfielder Kevin Watson also returned to the team, for only his second appearance since last November, which must have felt like the equivalent of welcoming another new player.

The potential is still there to mount a fight-back, but it now seems likely that the U's will have to win at least half of their remaining 12 games to stand a chance of survival - and they have only won six games all season.

Wolves are renowned for clocking up 1-0 wins, so it was an ominous sign when Ebanks-Blake powered through to break the deadlock on the half-hour mark.

The ex-Plymouth hotshot, signed from the Pilgrims for a cool £1.5m in January, benefited from Adam Virgo's failure to cut out a long through ball. Dean Gerken tried to narrow the angle, but Ebanks-Blake calmly slotted home his 16th goal of the season, and his third for Wanderers.

The U's had no shortage of chances to score, especially in the first half, but alas they failed to hit the target for only the second time in 10 games since the turn of the year.

While Wolves scored with their only goal attempt before the break, United spurned three excellent opportunities. Two of these fell to Kevin McLeod, who saw his 10th-minute volley well saved by Wayne Hennessey, and then came within inches of prodding home Kevin Lisbie's exquisite cross into the six-yard box.

Lisbie should have done better in the last minute of the first-half. The U's leading scorer, with 10 goals, sprang the Wolves offside trap to latch onto Kem Izzet's well-weighted pass. Lisbie had just Hennessey to beat, but he could not squeeze his shot past the talented Wanderers keeper.

Hennessey only celebrated his 21st birthday in January, but he is already the “king of clean-sheets.” In fact, during a loan spell at Stockport County last season, he set a new Football League record by keeping nine clean-sheets in nine straight wins.

The Wolves keeper was well protected by his back four during the second half, and the U's found it difficult to make any real headway against opposition who favoured a 4-5-1 formation.

Dean Hammond, on as a substitute during the final quarter of the game, was unlucky with a header from Johnnie Jackson's free-kick that drifted wide of the far post.

But there was precious little more goalmouth action until the final few seconds of the game, when a quickly-taken corner fizzed across the face of goal with no U's player able to stick out a boot to divert the ball home.

Back-to-back home defeats by Bristol City and Wolves have undone all the hard work of the previous four-match unbeaten run.

Now it's successive away games this week, at play-off chasing Plymouth tomorrow and then Crystal Palace on Saturday. They must win at least one of these two, otherwise relegation will be a virtual certainty.

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