U's make their point

A DEFLECTED drive from Mark Yeates earned Colchester United a deserved point to further frustrate Southampton boss George Burley last night.Yeates struck with his third goal of the season, just six minutes after Bradley Wright-Phillips had fired the Saints ahead early in the second-half.

By Carl Marston

A DEFLECTED drive from Mark Yeates earned Colchester United a deserved point to further frustrate Southampton boss George Burley last night.

Yeates struck with his third goal of the season, just six minutes after Bradley Wright-Phillips had fired the Saints ahead early in the second-half.

It looked ominous for the visitors when Wright-Phillips turned inside the penalty area to drill a 10-yard shot into the bottom corner of the net in the 52nd minute.

But the U's are proving to be tough opposition to beat this season, and they secured another battling away point when Yeates raced onto Clive Platt's lay-off and cracked in a cross-cum-shot that was deflected off the boot of left-back Rudi Skacel, completely wrong-footing keeper Kelvin Davis.

There may have been a slice of fortune attached to the goal, but this was another solid display from Geraint Williams' men, who remain unbeaten on their league travels.

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The one frustrating element is that they are drawing too many games - four of their six league fixtures have ended in stalemate.

Former U's boss Burley has an even bigger task at Southampton. He guided them to the play-offs last term, but they remain below the U's in the table after this latest performance.

U's boss Williams made changes in both his defence and attack following Saturday's 2-2 draw against Charlton. One of these was enforced, with Adam Virgo replacing the suspended Matthew Connolly at the heart of the defence.

Teddy Sheringham was rested up front, and did not even travel, no doubt with Saturday's long trip to Blackpool in mind. Clive Platt was therefore recalled alongside Kevin Lisbie. The other change was in goal, with veteran Aidan Davison preferred to Dean Gerken.

It was only Davison's second outing since last November, and he had his hands warmed early on by a 30-yard thunderbolt from Andrew Surman. He couldn't hold onto the shot, but was able to scoop up the loose ball before the Saints could react.

Bradley Wright-Phillips was through on goal in the ninth minute, with just Davison to beat. The former Manchester City striker managed to slide his shot beyond Davison, but the ball rolled agonisingly wide of the far post.

United were on the back foot, although they did have the distinction of earning the first corner of the game, due to the persistence of winger Mark Yeates. It needed a combination of two ex-Ipswich favourites, keeper Kelvin Davis and skipper Chris Makin, to clear Johnnie Jackson's delivery.

There was a heart-stopping moment on 16 minutes when Davison scurried to the edge of his box to try and intercept a through ball. Winger Nathan Dyer arrived first and tumbled to the ground, but referee Andy D'Urso was not tempted to give a penalty.

The U's looked comfortable for a further 10 minutes, at which point Southampton surged again. First Virgo did well to back-track and clear before livewire Dyer could pounce, and seconds later Davison was at full stretch to collect a goal-bound header from Grzegorz Rasiak. The Polish hit-man was looking to add to his five goals for the campaign.

Davison was certainly the busier of the two keepers, and the 39-year-old had to lunge bravely forwards to punch away a dangerous cross-cum-shot from ex-Norwich midfielder Youssef Safri on the half-hour mark.

Despite being under the cosh for most of the first-half, the U's should have taken the lead in the 41st minute, only for Lisbie to squander a gilt-edged chance.

Saints centre-half Wayne Thomas made a hash of trying to control Kem Izzet's hopeful pass, and suddenly Lisbie was homing in goal. The ex-Charlton striker looked sure to notch his fourth goal in as many games, but looked on aghast as his shot trickled wide of the near post with just keeper Davis to beat.

The visitors were soon on the rack at the start of the second period, and they nearly conceded before Wright-Phillips broke the deadlock.

McLeod lost possession in a key area and then conceded a free-kick just outside the box, for tugging back Dyer. Davison did well to divert Skacel's 20-yard shot around his post.

But Davison was powerless to prevent the Saints from grabbing the lead soon afterwards. Wright-Phillips was given time and space to turn inside the box, and then lash home a shot into the corner of the net.

Southampton's lead lasted just six minutes, thanks to Yeates finding the back of the net with a 58th-minute equaliser. It was a real bolt out of the blue, because not only was it Colchester's first effort on target, but Yeates' effort also took a massive deflection off Skacel.

The U's enjoyed a purple patch after Yeates' equaliser, and Lisbie turned to smash a half-volley over the top on the hour mark.

Southampton were becoming frustrated. The St Mary's faithful sensed a goal when the ball broke kindly for Wright-Phillips on 76 minutes, but his snap shot was superbly blocked by the excellent Baldwin.

And they were nearly in for a shock when Yeates embarked on a mazy run in the 81st minute. The Dubliner showed terrific control before unleashing a goalbound drive that Davis blocked with strong hands.

A mistake by Virgo almost allowed leading scorer Rasiak to poach a dramatic winner in the 88th minute.

The Celtic loanee ballooned a defensive header right into the path of Rasiak, and his shot skidded only a foot wide of the far upright.

There were four minutes of injury-time. Platt saw his weak header easily caught by Davis, after which the U's were content to hold out for a deserved point. The final whistle was greeted with boos from the home fans. By contrast, the U's travelling supporters were understandably in good spirits.