U's may take some stopping

COLCHESTER United are on a roll - and they might take some stopping!

Carl Marston

COLCHESTER United are on a roll - and they might take some stopping!

Paul Lambert's man have been transformed from relegation candidates into one of the in-form teams in the division, with an outside chance of even gate-crashing the top six.

And it's all happened in just three months. Back on October 11, the U's surrendered a 3-1 lead at Whaddon Road as hosts Cheltenham clinched a dramatic 4-3 win.

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But the U's are made of sterner stuff these days, with manager Paul Lambert at the helm. This time they rallied from a goal-down to finish comfortable 3-1 winners.

During the last half-hour, albeit playing against just 10 men, the U's produced some of their best football of the whole season, led by their talisman winger Mark Yeates.

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They scored three goals and could have doubled that tally. It was great to watch, and hopefully the crowds at the Community Stadium will be swelled during the second half of the campaign. The U's deserve a bigger stage.

Despite trailing to a 57th minute goal from Cheltenham centre-half Chris Westwood, United responded in devastating fashion with goals from skipper Dean Hammond, ex-Robins star Steven Gillespie, and man-of-the-match Yeates.

The visitors will earmark the dismissal of John Finnagan as a turning point - the substitute was sent off for two bookable offences, within seven minutes of his introduction - but by then the U's had already equalised and were in the driving seat.

There were no goals before the break, although the U's should have been ahead.

Yeates signalled his intentions early on with a spectacular long-range shot that keeper Scott Brown diverted over his bar. Brown was to have a fine game,

There were two gilt-edged chances just before the half-hour mark. First Scott Vernon was unable to rifle home a shot from close range, following Alan Maybury's deep cross, due to a combination of defender Lee Ridley and keeper Brown.

Seconds later and David Perkins looked sure to score. Brown scurried out of his penalty area to stop Clive Platt in his tracks, only for the ball to roll into the path of Perkins. An empty net beckoned, and although the ex-Rochdale midfielder was 25 yards from goal, he should have struck his shot firmly between the posts, rather than see his tame effort intercepted by Westwood.

These could have been costly misses. Westwood, recruited on loan from Leeds, headed home Ian Westlake's corner to nudge Cheltenham into the lead.

Yet that prompted a terrific Colchester rally. Lambert's men completely dominated from then until the final whistle, benefiting from the appearance of substitute Gillespie immediately after conceding the goal.

Gillespie could have scored within a minute of his introduction. His downward header from just six yards out was superbly blocked by Brown.

That miss prompted Lambert to aim a kick at the stack of water-bottles beside his dug-out. But the Scotsman's anger turned to joy when his reliable skipper, Hammond, nodded home Yeates' excellent free-kick in the 62nd minute.

Finnigan's late lunge on Yeates sealed his fate just 10 minutes later - the midfielder was flashed a second yellow and ensuing red card.

Cheltenham were now on the rack and Gillespie atoned for his earlier miss by heading home Pat Baldwin's cross on 78 minutes. It was his fifth goal of a stop-start season - he has still only started five league games for the U's.

Yeates capped a marvellous individual display with the third in the 89th minute. His first shot was saved by an over-worked Brown, but U's debutant Lewis Gobern (on loan from Wolves) laid off the rebound for the Irishman to sweep home his ninth goal of the season.

It was the perfect way to end an entertaining afternoon.


COLCHESTER UNITED: Walker 7, Maybury 7, Baldwin 8, Reid 7, Jackson 7 (sub White, 27), Perkins 7 (sub Gobern, 65), Hammond 8, Izzet 7, YEATES 9, Platt 7, Vernon 6 (sub Gillespie, 57). Unused subs: Wordsworth, Cousins.

CHELTENHAM TOWN: BROWN 8, Wright 6, Gallinagh 6, Westwood 7, Ridley 7, Russell 6, Westlake 7, Montrose 7 (sub Finnigan, 65), Vincent 6, Bignall 8, Connor 6 (sub Hammond, 15, sub Owusu, 74). Unused subs: Bird, Puddy.

Referee: Mr Lee Probert (Wiltshire).

Attendance: 4,183.

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