U’s and me: FA Cup horror shows of years gone by
Here I recall some of the U’s darkest days, against non-league opponents in the FA Cup, ahead of this Sunday’s first round tie at Gosport Borough
Whenever Colchester United have crossed swords with non-league opposition, in recent years, they have feared the worst, and for good reason.
The U’s used to be renowned for being FA Cup giantkillers, particularly the famous 3-2 win over then-mighty Leeds United in a fifth round tie on February 13, 1971.
But since they regained their Football League status, after a two-year stay in the Conference at the start of the 1990s, they have tasted life on the other side, namely being toppled by lower league minnows.
I have witnessed all of the U’s disastrous FA Cup exits, at the hands of hungry non-league opposition, since the U’s returned to the League in 1992, as well as the occasional triumph over more lowly opposition.
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Here I recall some of the bad days, and the good days.
Alas, the bad days outnumber the good ones, and they are also harder to forget!
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U’s v Non-League minnows (since 1992):
THE BAD DAYS (the worst five)
1 Bedlington Terriers (lost 4-1 in 1998)
These was perhaps the U’s darkest hours, losing at this Northumberland outpost to guarantee themselves a big billing on that same evening’s ‘Match of the Day’ programme.
It was a foul day, weather-wise, and the U’s were sunk without a trace in the Bedlington mud.
Ironically, the defeat came just a few months after Steven Wignall’s side had been crowned heroes by winning the old Division Three play-off final at Wembley, to clinch promotion to the third tier.
The Terriers, playing in the Northern League, broke the deadlock when Tommy Ditchburn bundled home from Martin Pike’s free-kick, before a mix-up between David Gregory and keeper Carl Emberson enabled John Milner to double the lead in the 23rd minute.
Mickey Cross netted the third with a looping effort on the hour mark, and Milner completed the rout with an 86th minute penalty.
Substitute Tony Adcock’s late consolation failed to ease the pain of that day!
2 Gravesend & Northfleet (lost 2-0 in 1995)
U’s manager Steve Wignall accused his players of being “cowards” after this first round shocker at unfashionable Gravesend.
The Beazer League Premier Division hosts were good value for this surprise win, with the U’s, Third Division promotion hopefuls, capitulating with hardly a whimper.
“Morally, we were cowards,” blasted boss Wignall. “I just didn’t understand what was happening.
“We bottled out and can have no excuses.”
Jimmy Jackson, who drove tractors for a living, gave Gravesend the lead with a 25-yard free-kick past keeper Carl Emberson, before Peter Morley sealed the visitors’ fate on 70 minutes.
3 Chelmsford City (lost 3-1, in 2012)
The U’s, under manager Joe Dunne, were humbled by their Essex rivals in this first round tie at Melbourne Park – it was the first competitive meeting between the two clubs for 44 years (since 1968).
Donovan Simmonds was the Clarets hero, scoring twice on 23 and 63 minutes to put the Conference South hosts in charge.
Left-back Michael Rose pulled one back from a free-kick, but Jamie Slabber killed off the U’s with a late third in front of a crowd of 3,016.
4 Sutton United (lost 4-3 in 1993)
This was a rare defeat to non-league opposition on home soil, coming just a year after the U’s had clinched promotion from the Conference.
Roy McDonough’s men served up a woeful display, with keeper John Keeley enduring a game he would rather forget between the sticks.
However, they had still done well to battle back to 3-3, with goals from Steve McGavin, Steve Brown and Tony English, before Ollie Morah broke Layer Road hearts with an injury-time winning goal.
Former Tottenham apprentice Morah then went on to play for Cambridge United and Welling.
5 Yeovil Town (lost 5-1 in 2000)
This was not just a hammering, but also a humbling experience against a Yeovil side who were at the time still a non-league outfit.
The Glovers gave the U’s a right thumping in the second half, bulldozing their way to victory.
Remarkably, it was still 0-0 after 50 minutes, but the goals then flew in from all angles, with big striker Warren Patmore netting twice. Barrington Belgrave, Terry Skiverton and Darren Way (penalty) also got in on the act.
Karl Duguid netted a consolation goal, to briefly give the U’s some hope at 3-1 down.
Poor Gavin Johnson had been taken to hospital before half-time. He was feeling better later that afternoon, until learning that his team-mates had shipped five goals in the second half!
Keeper Simon Brown, suffering from a back problem, had a dismal day.
THE GOOD DAYS (since 1992)
1 Leamington (beat 9-1, in 2005)
The U’s equalled a 44-year club record, by crushing Leamington in a first round tie at Layer Road.
Jamie Cureton and Neil Danns both scored a brace, with the other goals shared around by Greg Halford, Wayne Brown, Chris Iwelumo, Kevin Watson and Mark Yeates.
It was the start of a dream Cup run which culminated in a trip to Stamford Bridge, where Phil Parkinson’s men gave Chelsea a scare, in front of a crowd of 41,810, by taking the lead before eventually losing 2-1 in a thunderous fifth round tie.
2 Yeading (beat 7-1 in 1994)
Having held on for a nervy 2-2 draw at Yeading, the U’s demolished their opposition in a first round replay.
There were two goals apiece for Paul Abrahams, Steve Whitton and Steve Brown, with Mark Kinsella netting the other.
3 Slough (beat 4-0 in 1992)
Just a few months after returning to the Football League, Roy McDonough’s side eased past former Conference rivals Slough at Layer Road.
Gary Bennett helped himself to a couple of goals, supported by midfielders Tony Sorrell and Steve Ball.
4 Bromley (beat 4-0, in 2009)
Aidy Bothroyd’s Colchester side made no mistake on a tricky first round trip to Bromley.
Winger Simon Hackney broke the deadlock, before goals by Kayode Odejayi, Clive Platt and Steven Gillespie quietened down the bulk of a crowd of 4,242,