U's continue in-form run
THERE has never been a better time to support Colchester United. They are quite simply the in-form team in the land.The U's have forgotten what it's like to lose a match.
By Carl Marston
THERE has never been a better time to support Colchester United. They are quite simply the in-form team in the land.
The U's have forgotten what it's like to lose a match. In fact, they reacted to the previous weekend's 1-1 draw at League One leaders Swansea City as if it was a defeat, such was their crushing disappointment at failing to chalk up a ninth successive victory.
Normal service was restored on Saturday. Milton Keynes Dons have been the U's bogey team over the last couple of seasons, but not even they could halt the progress of Phil Parkinson's men.
Neil Danns fired home a 13th minute opener and Chris Iwelumo converted a last-minute penalty to wrap up a ninth victory in 10 games. Saturday's result condemned MK Dons to the relegation zone, while propelling the U's into fourth spot.
At this point, I would normally suggest that any Colchester supporter should cut out the League One table from this newspaper, for keeps sake. The U's are in the thick of the promotion race, and are now only three points adrift of Brentford, who occupy the second automatic promotion slot.
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But there is no indication that United's amazing run is about to come to an abrupt end. In short, there is no rush to start ripping out copies of the League One table from the paper. It could get even better!
The U's have been in the top six before, but rarely at this stage of the season. Often, they have started a season at brake-neck speed, only to drop off the pace before Christmas.
This season is different. United were in the relegation zone at the end of August, having won just one of their first seven fixtures. That seems light years away.
The U's were not at their best on Saturday. The Dons had doubled them last season, and shared a 1-1 draw in the corresponding fixture at the National Hockey Stadium on the third weekend of the campaign.
Danny Wilson's side were without their first choice strike-force of Izzet McLeod (leg strain) and Clive Platt (ankle problem), and were reduced to 10 men following Ben Chorley's 61st minute dismissal for foul and abusive language.
Yet the result was in doubt until the fourth and last minute of injury time, when Iwelumo tucked home a spot kick to net his ninth goal in 10 games, and his 13th of the season.
Colchester have set themselves very high standards. They firmly believe that they can beat anyone in the division, and they are fast proving it, even when not firing on all cylinders.
These are very exciting times at Layer Road. Not only are they guaranteed a top-six place at Christmas, but they are also in the third round of the FA Cup (away to Sheffield United), and tomorrow they travel to MK Dons for an LDV Vans Trophy southern area quarter-final tie.
Chances were few and far between in the first-half. Danns, though, settled the nerves with a slick finish after just 13 minutes.
The bustling Danns scampered onto Kevin Watson's well-weighted pass forward and controlled before beating keeper Matt Baker with a vicious shot from 15 yards out. The former Blackburn Rovers midfielder had missed an 85th-minute penalty to beat Swansea the previous weekend, so he was delighted to make amends with his fifth goal of the season.
The visitors had begun the afternoon just one place and one point above the drop zone, and they did not seriously threaten Aidan Davison until first-half injury-time. Midfielder Paul Mitchell pounced onto Wade Small's flick, from a free-kick routine, only for Davison to charge down the shot from point-blank range.
Davison's opposite number Baker made a series of fine saves at the start of the second period, most notably a fantastic double save in the 54th minute. The former Hereford and Wrexham keeper parried Greg Halford's goal-bound free-kick, and then quickly recovered to claw away the follow-up header from Iwelumo.
Seven minutes later and the Dons were reduced to 10 men. Skipper Chorley let down his manager, and his team-mates, by seeming to air his frustration with an unsavoury gesture towards the crowd. The centre-half was duly flashed the red card for foul and abusive language.
The U's did not immediately make their numerical advantage count. In fact, the red card kick-started the Dons into their best spell of the match.
Both home full-backs obliged with excellent last ditch challenges inside the penalty area. Left-back John White robbed danger-man Small in the 67th minute, to prevent a scoring chance, and right-back Sam Stockley then thwarted Stephen Quinn from close-in following Small's low cross to the far post.
The hosts held on and eventually settled the issue with a second goal, with virtually the last kick of the game. Baker dragged down substitute Richard Garcia inside the box, and Iwelumo beat the Dons keeper with a confident spot kick.
The U's remarkable run just keeps going on and on. They are now unbeaten in 11 matches, with nine wins and two draws.
Not even runaway Championship leaders Reading (beaten at Arsenal in the Carling Cup) or Premiership giants Chelsea can match that record.