U's drop two precious points at home

COLCHESTER United dropped two precious points at home to managerless Walsall in a scrappy League One contest that ended 0-0 at Layer Road last night.The U's dearly wanted to go into this Sunday's big FA Cup fifth round tie at Chelsea with a win under their belts, but they fell short against the plucky Saddlers.

By Carl Marston

COLCHESTER United dropped two precious points at home to managerless Walsall in a scrappy League One contest that ended 0-0 at Layer Road last night.

The U's dearly wanted to go into this Sunday's big FA Cup fifth round tie at Chelsea with a win under their belts, but they fell short against the plucky Saddlers.

In fact, Phil Parkinson's men were second best in the first-half, before finally forcing the pace after the break. But they could find no way past keeper Andy Oakes.

Winger Mark Yeates and striker Chris Iwelumo came closest to snatching a winner, but were thwarted by the excellent Oakes.

For Walsall it was a valuable point in their quest to pull away from the relegation dogfight, but for promotion-chasing Colchester it was a case of two lost points.

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The Essex club, after rattling up a club record 10 victories on the trot, have now failed to win either of their last two fixtures, having lost 2-0 at Huddersfield last Saturday.

Last night's stalemate also brought to an end the U's run of 12 consecutive home wins. This was only the second 0-0 draw at Layer Road this season, and the first involving United for 25 matches, since the stalemate at Tranmere on October 22.

The U's almost broke the deadlock inside the first 30 seconds. Greg Halford burst on to Richard Garcia's through ball and homed in on goal, only to slice his shot wide of the target.

However, United were then forced on to the back foot for the next 20 minutes and Wayne Brown, starting his second game since a recent operation, did well to chest back to keeper Aidan Davison following Grant Smith's cross into the danger zone.

Brown was playing at the heart of defence alongside Pat Baldwin, who had been recalled to the side due to Garry Richards' one-match suspension. That was the one change to the team which suffered a rare defeat at Huddersfield on Saturday.

The U's were lucky to escape in the 15th minute. Brown blocked a snap shot from Pablo Mills, and the rebound from Grant Smith struck the far post and bounced back into play.

Davison came under fire again on 17 minutes. The U's keeper dropped to his knees to gather a long-range drive from Mark Keates, and although he lost control of the ball for a split-second, he was able to smother before a visiting player could pounce.

There was concern when Brown was felled in an aerial battle, while trying to nod on Halford's long throw in the 20th minute. The U's defender received treatment from physio Stuart Ayles, both on and off the pitch, before returning to the fray four minutes later.

The hosts were struggling to mount any attack of note. Mark Yeates did skip past one challenge, but chose to shoot from distance with a bobbling effort that failed to trouble keeper Andy Oakes. Walsall's No. 1 was also happy to see a similar shot from Kevin Watson drift wide of target.

The Saddlers earned the first corner of the night in the 34th minute. Keates obliged with an inswinging delivery that Davison gobbled up under his bar.

A minute later and United won their first corner, from which they nearly scored. Halford headed on Watson's corner and the ball rolled across the face of goal with no team-mate on hand to apply the finishing touch.

At least that prompted a spell of Colchester pressure. Iwelumo fed Karl Duguid with a short pass, and the U's skipper tried his luck from 25 yards with a shot that Oakes clutched to his midriff.

Oakes had to be alert in the 40th minute. Yeates' cross-cum-shot was heading for the roof of the net until the former Derby keeper arched back to pluck the ball out of the air.

At the other end, Davison had to be similarly agile to claw away a speculative looping effort from danger man Keates.

It had been a very disappointing first-half, with the U's often second best to the loose ball. Walsall had enjoyed the bulk of the possession, and had posed the bigger threat in front of goal.

The Midlanders continued to press early in the second period and left-midfielder Grant Smith was not far adrift with a shot from the edge of the box that whistled a foot wide of the upright, with a worried Davison at full stretch.

Too many of United's attacking players had been flattering to deceive, not least in central midfield where Danns and Watson had been well marked by big man Pablo Mills and the lively Keates. But Yeates was not afraid to run at Walsall's defence. The Tottenham loanee curled one delightful shot narrowly wide of the far post on 56 minutes, and then seconds later was just as close with a low rocket that flew just the wrong side of the near upright.

Both sets of players were involved in a fracas on the edge of the box, as an aftermath to Smith felling Halford in the 64th minute. Smith was booked for the foul, and Iwelumo and Saddlers defender Ian Roper were also flashed yellow cards for their part in the melee.

Halford took the free-kick, with his shot ricocheting off the defensive wall and behind for a corner. The U's came close to breaking the deadlock from this set piece, with Iwelumo stabbing wide from Yeates' cross.

Parkinson made a double change in the 69th minute. Sam Stockley replaced White at full-back, while Gareth Williams was introduced as an attacking substitute for Garcia.

The U's stepped up a gear during the later stages. Yeates rounded his marker, Craig Pead, and cut into the penalty area. His deflected cross rolled into the path of substitute Williams, who saw his close-range shot squeezed out by keeper Oakes.

From the ensuing corner, leading scorer Iwelumo was also denied by the excellent Oakes. The Saddlers keeper superbly palmed away the big Scotsman's goalbound shot.

Walsall were on the rack. Watson's next corner, delivered on 80 minutes, ended with Williams scuffing a 15-yard shot wide of goal.

The visitors enjoyed some light relief when winning a free-kick in the 88th minute, and Mills rose above Iwelumo to head a yard over the bar.

There was a glimmer of hope in the fourth and last minute of injury-time. Halford launched a long throw into the box and the loose ball broke for Williams, whose snap shot was comfortably saved by Oakes.

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