U's heading for relegation on this form
COLCHESTER United ended 2007 on their lowest note of the whole year, humbled by Blackpool in their own back yard.On Saturday's evidence, the U's will be relegated by the end of March, not the beginning of May! They are now four points adrift of safety at the foot of the Championship table, and their next two league games are back-to-back away fixtures at promotion-chasing Charlton and Bristol City.
By Carl Marston
COLCHESTER United ended 2007 on their lowest note of the whole year, humbled by Blackpool in their own back yard.
On Saturday's evidence, the U's will be relegated by the end of March, not the beginning of May!
They are now four points adrift of safety at the foot of the Championship table, and their next two league games are back-to-back away fixtures at promotion-chasing Charlton and Bristol City.
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The signs are not encouraging. For United to stand a chance of holding onto their Championship status, when they move to their new Community Stadium at the start of next season, they need to beat teams like Blackpool, who began the day just five points clear.
But in the end Blackpool, who won promotion via the play-offs last term, eased to a comfortable away win, thanks to a first-half brace from Colchester old boy Scott Vernon.
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The U's defence, the worst in the division, was again exposed. The Essex club have failed to keep a clean-sheet since the 3-0 win at Preston in August. That seems a lifetime away!
Statistically, it equates to 22 games without a clean-sheet, which points to the prime reason why the U's are marooned at the bottom. They simply cannot defend.
Football pundits will dismiss the U's current plight as “second season syndrome,” following on from a dream first year in the Championship when they finished 10th in the table.
But that is too easy a generalisation. Any team that had the heart ripped out of it by a mass summer exodus of players would struggle to hold their own in the second season.
Of course the U's have missed their three leading scorers from 2006-007. Chris Iwelumo has been banging in the goals for Charlton, Jamie Cureton has regained his form at Norwich, and Richard Garcia has been playing well at Hull.
But it is the loss of arguably their two most consistent defenders from last term, Wayne Brown (now Hull) and Chris Barker (now QPR), that have had the biggest effect on this year's squad. The absence of both defenders has hit the U's hard.
Blackpool did not have to over-stretch themselves to chalk up a third away victory of the season.
Gary Taylor-Fletcher left Adam Virgo trailing in his wake as he slid over a low cross for Vernon to crack a left-footed shot into the roof of the net on 26 minutes.
Ten minutes later and Virgo was again at fault. This time the Celtic loanee's powder-puff header was controlled by Andy Morrell, who squared for Vernon to bundle the ball home from close range, via the far post.
They were Vernon's third and fourth goals of the season - the ex-Oldham striker had rarely started a game before Saturday (just his fourth start).
Colchester never looked like finding a route back into this game. Once again, their only real attacking outlet was winger Mark Yeates, who was head and shoulders above his team-mates.
Yeates had scored from two cracking free-kicks to earn a 2-2 draw at Bloomfield Road last September, and his set piece efforts were again the closest that the U's came to a goal.
Keeper Paul Rachubka spilled a seventh minute free-kick from Yeates, and was lucky to see the ball bounce to safety off the post. And just after the half-hour mark, a superb 25-yard free-kick from Yeates was finger-tipped to safety by Rachubka.
Otherwise, the Seasiders defended impressively. Teddy Sheringham was frustrated all afternoon, as was his fellow striker Clive Platt. All in all, there was very little to cheer the Layer Road faithful, going into 2008.
It will need a supreme effort from the U's to clamber out of trouble over the next four months. Teams above them are enjoying a rich vein of form, most notably big-money QPR, improving Norwich and stubborn Leicester.
Williams faces a massive task. Whether he will be given the time to engineer a revival is far from certain.