U's coast to biggest win of the season

COLCHESTER United coasted to their biggest victory of the season to climb to the heady heights of 10th in the Championship table, at the expense of sorry Sheffield Wednesday last night.

By Carl Marston

COLCHESTER United coasted to their biggest victory of the season to climb to the heady heights of 10th in the Championship table, at the expense of sorry Sheffield Wednesday last night.

The U's were simply irresistible, with Jamie Cureton, Greg Halford, Chris Iwelumo and Karl Duguid all scoring quality goals to seal a fourth successive home victory.

The Owls had no answer to Geraint Williams' super-confident troops. Keeper Brad Jones must have wished he was back home in his native Australia, as the shots rained in at him from all angles.

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It was only 1-0 at the break, but it was a crucial goal for both the U's and marksman Cureton. The U's front runner beat Jones with a delicate lob to chalk up his 150th career league goal.

Any hopes of a Wednesday rally were dashed by two goals in quick succession within the first quarter of the second period. Owls striker Steven MacLean missed a real sitter in the 54th minute, and just two minutes Halford made the visitors pay with a stunning strike.

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Right-back Halford, out of the blue, let fly from 30 yards out with a firecracker that zoomed into the roof of the net, via the far post. It was a spectacular effort, and certainly a contender for goal-of-the-season.

Chris Iwelumo effectively made the game safe with a lethal finish of his own in the 61st minute, from the edge of the box, and Karl Duguid followed suit with a similar long-range strike on 84 minutes.

Wednesday had no response. They were a demoralised bunch long before the final whistle put them out of their misery.

The U's are going great guns. They have lost just one of their last eight matches, and are now in the top half of the Championship table for the first time in their history.

U's boss Williams selected the same 10 outfield players for the eighth game in succession, and they were on the offensive inside the first minute.

Kevin Watson, who was celebrating his 100th league appearance for United, threaded a precise pass through the middle for Richard Garcia to chase. The Australian fired his shot on target, but straight at keeper Brad Jones.

The U's did not really threaten again until the 10th minute. Garcia was involved again, sliding into the path of Jamie Cureton, who whipped over a dangerous cross that Wednesday centre-half Madjid Bougherra did well to cut out.

The Owls were fresh from a 2-1 home win over Yorkshire rivals Barnsley, and they gave the U's a few problems in the opening exchanges. In fact, Aidan Davison had to be at his best to smother MacLean's thunderous free-kick on 12 minutes.

Frank Simek was in the action for the wrong reasons in the 18th minute. The American-born right-back clattered late into U's skipper Duguid, and was duly booked by referee Richard Beeby.

The U's stayed patient, and they were rewarded with an opening goal on 28 minutes, thanks to Cureton's much-prized 150th career league goal.

Cureton scampered onto Garcia's lofted ball over the top, and he managed to nip in between defender Graham Coughlan and keeper Jones, calmly lifting his shot over the Australian custodian for a slick finish.

United tried to double their lead quickly. Duguid lashed in a volley that Jones clutched to his midriff, and Garcia then dragged a shot wide of target from a promising position.

Paul Sturrock's side did enjoy some better possession during the closing minutes of the first period, without creating another meaningful chance before half-time.

Cureton was agonisingly close to scoring his second goal within a minute of the restart. His delicate lob was heading for the net, only for Bougherra to hook the ball away from under the bar.

Seconds later and Duguid was inches away with a low shot that swerved into the side-netting. That set the tone for a very open second half.

In the 50th minute, a cross-cum-shot from Burton O'Brien caused all sorts of problems. Davison could only parry the ball, before bundling it behind for a corner under heavy pressure from Marcus Tudgay.

Wednesday should have been level in the 54th minute. Halford could not clear from deep inside the penalty area, and when midfielder Yoann Folly squared for MacLean, the Scotsman scooped his shot over the bar from just six yards out. It was a terrible miss from MacLean, and the Owls were soon made to pay.

Just two minutes later and Halford blasted home a contender for goal-of-the-season to put the U's well and truly in the driving seat. Halford trapped a pass from Kem Izzet and suddenly unleashed a 30-yard thunderbolt that soared into the roof of the net, via the far post. Keeper Jones did not move a muscle.

It was Halford's second goal of the season, following his strike in the home defeat by Barnsley in August.

And Colchester were in dreamland when Iwelumo drilled them into a 3-0 lead in the 61st minute.

Garcia did the hard work, surging forward on a powerful run before sliding an accurate pass into the path of Iwelumo. The U's striker had one thing on his mind, and that was to shoot. His right-footed effort, from the edge of the box, again left Jones with no chance as it screamed into the corner of the net.

Owls manager Sturrock responded by making a triple substitution, in an effort to turn the tide. On came Deon Burton, Andrew Talbot and Kenny Lunt.

But there was no let-up for the visitors, and Jones was picking the ball out of the net for a fourth time in the 84th minute, thanks to Duguid's dazzling finish.

Duguid had all the time and space in the world, receiving Jamie Guy's pass and then cracking in a shot from the edge of the box. It was another quality finish, on a night of high quality.

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