U's derailed by Crewe

LETHAL marksman Calvin Zola dealt Colchester United's play-off hopes a big blow at the Community Stadium this afternoon.

Carl Marston

Colchester United 0 Crewe Alexandra 1

LETHAL marksman Calvin Zola dealt Colchester United's play-off hopes a big blow at the Community Stadium this afternoon.

Centre-forward Zola turned to lash home the only goal of the game in the 63rd minute, from close-range, to seal a league double for stubborn Crewe Alexandra.

The Railwaymen had dominated in their 2-0 home victory over the U's at Gresty Road last September, but they had to defend stoically throughout a one-sided first-half in Essex, before eventually taking charge after the break.

The U's disappointed in the second period, leaving them with a mountain to climb if they are to make the top six. They have just nine games remaining, and only three of these are at home.

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Furthermore, Paul Lambert's men face a daunting trip to league leaders Leicester City next Saturday.

The U's dictated the early stages. Simon Hackney had a snap shot well smothered by John Ruddy, with the ball bouncing just in front of him, and the Crewe keeper also did well to claw away Yeates' swirling cross on two minutes.

United had appeals for a penalty turned down in the sixth minute. Alan Maybury's cross appeared to strike centre-half Marlon Broomes on the hand, but referee Mr Phillips was not convinced.

Crewe were operating with three centre-halves, and in fact a very defensive formation. They had a dangerous free-kick to defend in the ninth minute, when Kem Izzet was fouled just outside the box, but Yeates' shot cannoned off the defensive wall.

Yeates had a passed fitness test on a sore calf to start, after missing a couple of games. He replaced Steven Gillespie, who had turned his ankle in training on Friday.

The woodwork denied the U's an opening goal in the 13th minute. Marc Tierney advanced a few yards before trying his luck with an angled drive that beat Ruddy, only to glance off the outside of the far post.

A minute later and Izzet was close to a goal. His delicate chip, from Hackney's lay-off, forced Ruddy to arch back and fingertip the ball over his bar and onto the top of the net.

The U's threatened again, from another free-kick, in the 18th minute. Defender Julien Baudet was booked for clipping the heels of David Perkins, and Dean Hammond's softly-struck free-kick was heading for the top corner of the net, until Ruddy pushed it over the top.

Crewe weathered this early storm and Mark Cousins was finally called into action in the 34th minute. Cousins dived to his right to hang onto Gylfi Sigurdsson's curling free-kick, following a foul by Maybury.

The U's were forced into a change before half-time. Winger Hackney limped off with what looked like a groin strain, to be replaced by substitute Scott Vernon.

In the last minute of the first period, Chris Coyne met Tierney's free-kick with a thumping header that soared only a foot over the bar. But it had been a frustrating first 45 minutes for the U's.

Half-time: Colchester United 0 Crewe Alexandra 0

It took the U's 10 minutes to get going in the second-half. They then peppered the Crewe goal, after Perkins' 55th minute shot had been well saved by Ruddy.

From the ensuing corner, Pat Baldwin failed to direct his header on target with Ruddy out of position, before Perkins saw his angled shot charged down by giant defender Dennis Lawrence.

But it was Crewe who took the lead, thanks to ZOLA'S close-range strike in the 63rd minute.

The U's failed to clear their lines from a throw-in, and centre-forward Zola made them pay by turning to lash home a shot from a tight angle.

And Cousins then kept the U's in the game by making a smart save on 66 minutes. Clayton Donaldson burst through on goal, but his attempt to skip around Cousins backfired as the U's keeper smothered the ball at his feet.

Johnnie Jackson came on for a tiring Izzet in the 70th minute, and he was quickly in the action when dragging a shot wide from Platt's lay-off.

But United had not created many chances in the second-half. Platt did manage to latch onto Vernon's header, but he rather scuffed his shot on the turn and Ruddy easily saved.

Crewe comfortably protected their lead for the remainder of the game to further boost their chances of avoiding relegation.


COLCHESTER UNITED: Cousins 7, Maybury 6 (sub Wordsworth, 84), Baldwin 6, Coyne 7, TIERNEY 8, Perkins 7, Hammond 6, Izzet 7 (sub Jackson, 70), Hackney 6 (sub Vernon, 41), Yeates 6, Platt 7. Unused subs: White, Gerken.

CREWE ALEXANDRA: Ruddy 8, Baudet 7, LAWRENCE 8, Broomes 7, Brayford 7, Grant 6 (sub Moore, 90), Woodards 6 (sub Schumacher, 46), Sigurdsson 7, Jones 6, Donaldson 6, Zola 7. Unused subs: O'Donnell, Miller, Collis.

Referee: Mr D Phillips (West Sussex) 6

Attendance: 4,907

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