U's end barren spell but it's not enough

COLCHESTER United finally ended their barren spell in front of goal, but it was not enough to earn them a first-ever appearance at the Millennium Stadium.

By Carl Marston

COLCHESTER United finally ended their barren spell in front of goal, but it was not enough to earn them a first-ever appearance at the Millennium Stadium.

Neil Danns wiped out Swansea City's slender advantage from the first leg, by scoring within the first minute of the second period of this LDV Vans Trophy southern area final second leg tie, staged at Layer Road last night.

Danns became the first Colchester player to score in just over 12 hours of football, watching in delight as his 20-yard shot bounced awkwardly in front of, and over, stranded keeper Willy Gueret. The Frenchman was left with egg on his face.

But Colchester's joy was short-lived. The Swans took the game by the scruff of the neck with two goals in a four-minute spell, so ensuring their passage through to the final, where they will play northern champions Carlisle.

Leon Britton rammed home the equaliser on the night in the 52nd minute, and pint-sized striker Leon Knight gave them breathing space with a clinical shot on the turn in the 56th minute.

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There was no way back for Colchester, who have now failed to taste victory in their last eight matches. The Swans cruised through 3-1 on aggregate.

The U's can now concentrate all their efforts on trying to win promotion to the Championship. They showed more as an attacking threat last night, but they must end their rotten run soon, to avoid slipping out of the top six of League One.

They entertain lowly Swindon at Layer Road on Saturday, and they desperately need a win to get their season back on track.

U's boss Parkinson made three changes to the side that suffered a 1-0 defeat at promotion rivals Oldham Athletic last Saturday. Dean Gerken replaced Aidan Davison in goal, as he had done for all the LDV Vans Trophy fixtures this campaign, while Pat Baldwin came in for Sam Stockley at right-back.

Midfielder Kem Izzet was serving a one-match suspension, after being sent off at Boundary Park. John White therefore enjoyed a recall at left-back, enabling Karl Duguid to move into attack. It was the first time that U's skipper Duguid had played up front since the 1999-2000 season, six years ago.

Parkinson had certainly tinkered with his starting line-up. Greg Halford shifted from his regular right-midfield role to the middle of the park, with Danns given the role of patrolling the right flank.

But it was Swansea who threatened first. Adebayo Akinfenwa, who had scored the only goal from the first leg, had a goalbound shot blocked inside the box, and his strike-force partner Knight was also thwarted by the outstretched boot of Liam Chilvers.

The U's pressed forward in the ninth minute. Livewire Duguid saw his dangerous cross turned away for a corner by defender Alan Tate, and Mark Yeates then capped a strong run with a rather weak shot that keeper Gueret easily gathered.

United had appeals for a penalty waved away by referee Phil Crossley in the 19th minute. Danns skipped past a couple of challenges and took a tumble in the box, with Wolves loanee Keith Lowe in close attendance. Mr Crossley was not convinced.

A minute later and Gerken was forced into his first save of the evening. The U's keeper palmed away an angled drive from Swans skipper Roberto Martinez, and recovered to catch the follow-up shot by Britton.

Chris Iwelumo should have broken the deadlock in the 24th minute. The Welshmen struggled to clear a free-kick by Kevin Watson, enabling Halford to tee up Iwelumo, who blasted his shot over the bar from an excellent position.

The U's went much closer on the half-hour mark. Danns burst on to Duguid's pass and cut inside before trying his luck with a 20-yarder that was deflected wide off centre-half Garry Monk.

Iwelumo had been the last Colchester player to score a goal, way back on February 7 with the winner against Scunthorpe. The Scotsman was obviously low on confidence, but he created a chance for himself with a neat turn and low drive that Gueret collected down on his haunches.

United had edged the first period, without applying the killer touch. The arrival of half time, with the score goal-less, meant that it was now precisely 12 hours since a U's player had netted a goal.

But the U's did finally end their lean spell in front of goal inside 54 seconds of the second period, thanks to a cracker from Danns and a howler from Gueret.

U's midfielder Danns struck his 20-yard shot cleanly, but Gueret should have gathered.

However, the ball bounced awkwardly in front of the Frenchman, deviating over his outstretched hand and into the net.

It was Danns' 14th goal of the season, but his first for six weeks.

However, Swansea were level in the 52nd minute. Sam Ricketts whipped over a low cross from the left flank that Knight dummied, allowing Britton to steam in and ram home from six yards out, giving Gerken no chance.

That gave the Swans a 2-1 lead on aggregate, and a precious away goal. And four minutes later they were celebrating another goal to stretch their aggregate advantage to 3-1.

Britton turned provider this time, swinging over a cross from the right flank that Akinfenwa managed to nod down in the direction of Knight. The former Chelsea trainee swivelled to hook a 10-yard shot into an empty net.

The U's had a mountain to climb. Duguid latched on to a loose ball on the edge of the six-yard box in the 57th minute, but his shot on the turn was well smothered by Gueret.

Swans leading scorer Lee Trundle replaced goalscorer Knight in the 66th minute, and he very nearly scored with his first touch. Trundle's low shot was deflected agonisingly wide of the far post, with Gerken struggling.

There was a lengthy hold-up of 10 minutes while Swans defender Lowe received treatment on the pitch, after a clash of heads. Lowe, who was making his City debut, was eventually stretchered off with what looked like a neck injury.

The delay broke up the U's rhythm and Swansea were hunting another goal on 80 minutes. Andy Robinson's goal-bound effort was headed away emphatically by Wayne Brown.

Danns was booked for a deliberate dive, inside the penalty area, and Duguid then tested Gueret from distance with a shot that the Frenchman was relieved to gather - there was no awkward bounce on that occasion.

Lowe's unfortunate injury meant that there were eight minutes of stoppage time. And in the second of these, Halford's header struck a post.

Gerken punched away Robinson's goal-bound shot in the fourth minute of injury time, but by then Swansea were more than happy with their night's work.

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