U's glory run halted by Shotton

COLCHESTER United's unbeaten run, and hopeful charge up the table, was ended by impressive Tranmere last night.

Carl Marston

Colchester United 0 Tranmere Rovers 1

COLCHESTER United's unbeaten run, and hopeful charge up the table, was ended by impressive Tranmere last night.

Paul Lambert's men would have leapfrogged their opponents in the League One table, with a fourth home win on the bounce, but in truth Rovers were good value for this win.

Defender Ryan Shotton obliged with the winner in the 49th minute, after his side had shaded the first half. Shotton headed home Charlie Barnett's probing free-kick, and the U's never really looked like fashioning an equaliser.

Ironically, Stoke City loanee Shotton had been ineligible when this game should have been played, on January 3. Tranmere had not received clearance from the Football League for their talented right-back to play, only for this original game to be called off because of a frozen pitch.

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Remarkably, this was Tranmere's first away success for nearly four months, and it leaves Colchester a distant eight points adrift of the play-off zone, with 17 games remaining.

Shotton's lethal finish also ended the U's eight-match unbeaten run. It was only their second defeat in their last 13 matches, a run that has at least seen them climb out of the relegation zone and into the top half of the table.

The closest that Colchester came to an equaliser was in the third and final minute of injury-time, when Rovers keeper Danny Coyne denied substitute Jamie Guy with a last-ditch challenge on the edge of his box.

But a goal at that late stage would have been harsh on the visitors.

The U's made just one change to the side that last played, 10 days ago, in a 2-0 win at Carlisle. Midfielder Kem Izzet was suspended, and so was not in the final 16-man squad for only the second time this season.

But target-man Clive Platt was back after serving his one-match ban at Brunton Park. Platt partnered Scott Vernon up front, while David Perkins shifted into central midfield to take the place of Izzet alongside skipper Dean Hammond.

Both sides made their attacking intentions known within the first few minutes, but it was Rovers who went the closest to breaking the deadlock.

Shotton's firm header looped over keeper Jimmy Walker, only to cannon back off the bar. There was still danger from the rebound, only for Hammond to head coolly back to his keeper.

That narrow escape for the U's, which arrived after just three minutes, was sandwiched by chances at the other end. Mark Yeates had dragged a shot wide after just 40 seconds, while Platt was not far adrift with a downward header at the far post.

Rovers had not won an away game since mid-October, but they were playing with confidence and Walker was grateful that Charlie Barnett's low drive flew straight into his midriff.

Visiting keeper Danny Coyne was forced into his first real save in the 19th minute. An unmarked Hammond connected with a sweet header from Yeates' delivery, and Coyne was at full stretch to gather on his goal-line.

Six minutes later and Tranmere wasted another great chance to take the lead. Bas Savage waited for Pat Baldwin to commit himself, before finding Chris Shuker with an accurate cross. Shuker had just Walker to beat, but he sliced his shot horribly wide.

Yeates had disappointed with his corners and crosses in the first half, but he teased Tranmere's defenders with a strong run on 41 minutes. His final shot was heading for the far corner of the net, only for Coyne to divert the ball wide.

United ended the first period on top, and Vernon was unlucky to see his deft header, from Yeates' delivery, drift wide of target.

But four minutes into the second-half it was Tranmere who grabbed the lead, thanks to Shotton's downward header from Barnett's free-kick.

The U's tried to respond quickly and Yeates peppered the target with two great efforts. His first shot was superbly clawed away by keeper Coyne, while his second instinctive effort ballooned narrowly wide.

The visitors looked capable of scoring more goals from set pieces, and it was fortunate that referee Gavin Ward had already blown his whistle for a foul before Steve Jennings headed home from another free-kick.

U's boss Lambert was therefore prompted into a couple of changes, with Simon Hackney and Jamie Guy coming on as substitutes for Lewis Gobern and Platt.

But it was Rovers who continued to look the more menacing, and it required a wonder save from Walker to keep them in the game midway through the second half. The West Ham loanee somehow managed to scramble away Shuker's goal-bound shot, by squeezing the ball around his near post before it could cross the line.

United had appeals for a penalty turned down in the 78th minute. The ball appeared to brush the hand of defender Andy Taylor, following good work by Guy, but referee Mr Ward ruled that it was accidental.

Guy was then denied right at the death, by keeper Coyne's last-ditch tackle on the edge of his box. But Rovers deserved this win.


COLCHESTER UNITED: Walker 7, Maybury 7, Baldwin 6, Reid 6 (sub Wordsworth, 83), Tierney 7, Gobern 5 (sub Hackney, 57), HAMMOND 8, Perkins 6, Yeates 7, Platt 5 (sub Guy, 65), Vernon 6. Unused subs: White, Cousins.

TRANMERE ROVERS: Coyne 7, SHOTTON 8, Chorley 7, Kay 7, Taylor 7, Shuker 7, Jennings 7, Edds 6, Barnett 7, Savage 7, Moore 6. Unused subs: Holmes, Waterfall, Cresswell, Henry, Achterberg.

Referee: Mr Gavin Ward (Surrey).

Attendance: 3,588.

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