U's left to lick wounds after derby loss

THE scene was set, with a record crowd jam-packed into the Community Stadium, but Colchester United froze on the big stage.

Carl Marston

THE scene was set, with a record crowd jam-packed into the Community Stadium, but Colchester United froze on the big stage.

Saturday's home defeat to Essex rivals Southend was costly, in a number of ways. It was a hard defeat to swallow.

Paul Lambert's men again missed an opportunity to close the yawning gap between themselves and the play-off zone; they failed to score for the third game running; they lost the local bragging rights to the deadly enemy; and in terms of the bigger picture, they blew a chance to capture a whole new audience.

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The attendance of 8,651 was an increase of more than 25% on the previous highest at the new ground - 6,290 had watched the home win over Leyton Orient after Christmas - so a fair proportion of the home contingent were paying their first visit to the U's new home.

There was a cracking atmosphere, which will hopefully entice many of these first-time visitors to return. But the U's did not really do themselves any favours on the pitch.

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They had plenty of the ball, yet the lack of cutting edge up front is giving cause for concern. Clive Platt and Scott Vernon have not really gelled as a strike-force, while niggling injuries have restricted Steven Gillespie to just the occasional cameo appearance in recent months. Fourth-choice striker Jamie Guy was left out of the 16-man squad, after making only his second league start in a U's shirt the previous weekend.

Southend only threatened twice in the whole match, but a 50% success rate was all it took for Steve Tilson's men to end a miserable run on the road. It was their first win in 13 away games.

Franck Moussa, a teenager from Belgium, was the unlikely hero for the Shrimpers - his 14th minute strike, the only goal of the game, was his first ever goal in English football.

It was a bolt out of the blue. The U's defence was caught napping as Theo Robinson burst clear down the right flank, leaving defender Matt Heath trailing in his wake.

The Watford loanee whipped over a menacing cross which Moussa met with a clinical, first-time shot that flew past a dazed Jimmy Walker. It was a classical breakaway goal, and the U's did not possess the guile or the weaponry to respond.

They could also have faced the prospect of playing 70 minutes with just 10 men, when Alan Maybury reacted to Alan McCormack's foul by appearing to lash out in retaliation. Maybury was lucky to escape with just a yellow card.

The U's had three gilt-edged chances to equalise before half-time. But once again they failed to make their supremacy count, and they never reached the same heights after the break.

Keeper Steve Mildenhall gobbled up Kem Izzet's goalbound header, following Clive Platt's headed lay-off, and he performed heroics to divert Mark Yeates' snap shot around his post.

These two saves sandwiched the miss of the match, which occurred on 36 minutes. Skipper Dean Hammond flicked on

Yeates' corner, and Pat Baldwin looked odds-on to poke the ball over the line at the far post. However, the U's centre-half could not hit the target from point-blank range - it would certainly have been easier to score!

Southend nearly doubled their lead in first-half stoppage time. Jean-Francois Christophe, who had scored a last gasp equaliser in the 3-3 draw between the two clubs at Roots Hall, was unmarked as he headed Moussa's free-kick over the bar.

The second-half was virtually devoid of chances at either end, with the exception of Izzet scooping a shot over the top within 25 seconds of the restart, and substitute Gillespie nodding wide from Marc Tierney's cross.

Not even six minutes of injury-time could save Colchester. Those play-off hopes are fading fast, and it might be quite a while before a crowd of similar proportions is seen at the Community Stadium.

Stockport County are the visitors tomorrow evening. It's a quickfire chance to end a run of three straight defeats, but on the evidence of Saturday, the horse may already have bolted.

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