U's miss out on top two place

COLCHESTER United missed out on a chance to move into the top two of League One, but still ground out a gritty draw at Doncaster Rovers last night.The U's were second best, in terms of attacking flair, all evening in south Yorkshire, failing to record a shot on target or force home keeper Alan Blayney into a serious save.

By Carl Marston

COLCHESTER United missed out on a chance to move into the top two of League One, but still ground out a gritty draw at Doncaster Rovers last night.

The U's were second best, in terms of attacking flair, all evening in south Yorkshire, failing to record a shot on target or force home keeper Alan Blayney into a serious save.

Yet Phil Parkinson's men defended manfully, inspired by another flawless display from Wayne Brown at the heart of defence. The visitors were also indebted to a string of excellent saves from Aidan Davison, especially in the first-half when Rovers were in the driving seat.

Doncaster tired as the second period wore on, no doubt demoralised after finding no way past the U's stubborn rearguard.

The news that second-placed Brentford had crashed to a 3-2 defeat at lowly Gillingham was an added boost for the U's. Now only one point separates the Bees from fifth-placed Colchester.

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Manager Parkinson praised his side's “character” at the Belle Vue Ground last night. He insisted: “This is a great point for us.

“Doncaster came out at us like it was their last chance saloon. They played at an incredible tempo, realising they needed a win to keep their hopes of reaching the play-offs alive.

“It was not a great footballing performance from the lads, but we showed terrific character. We stood up and were counted.

“Aidan Davison made some great saves. He's a top keeper. Wayne (Brown) again marshalled the back four superbly, and John White got better as the night went on.

“Doncaster had to win to keep their season alive. The pitch did not help, because it was difficult to play on, but we did our bit,” added Parkinson.

The U's started brightly and Kevin Watson earned a free-kick in a promising position after only two minutes. Greg Halford's 25-yarder from this set piece whistled wide of the upright.

Rovers had suffered their first defeat in eight matches, at the hands of Nottingham Forest on Saturday, and they were eager to put that disappointment quickly behind them.

In fact, they could have scored twice inside the first five minutes.

Midfielder Sean Thornton was only a whisker away with an angled drive, and U's keeper Aidan Davison then pulled off a terrific point blank save to deny striker Neil Roberts.

Rovers continued to press and U's centre-half Wayne Brown intervened with a couple of excellent blocks, deep inside the penalty area. Brown was actually lying on the deck when he made the second challenge, to prevent a James Coppinger shot.

The visitors had a rare chance on the break in the 20th minute. Strikers Tony Thorpe and Chris Iwelumo combined to set up skipper Karl Duguid, who sliced his volley high and wide with keeper Alan Blayney untroubled.

At the other end, Davison had to dive low to his right to palm a shot by Neil Roberts around his post for a corner. The U's keeper had enjoyed a commanding first half-hour, and he duly dealt with the ensuing corner, by catching Jason Price's flick-on.

Davison came to his side's rescue again in the 34th minute. The 37-year-old had to change direction to prevent Coppinger's low shot from sneaking in at the near post.

John White, who was recalled at left-back for this match, fancied his chances of scoring his first ever senior goal on 39 minutes. He pounced onto a loose ball on the edge of the box, but dragged his shot wide.

Otherwise, though, Doncaster had the edge in the first-half. Davison again excelled in pushing Coppinger's cross-cum-shot to safety, and Liam Chilvers was in trouble when wrestling Neil Roberts to the ground in the 44th minute. The U's defender was booked, rather than shown the red card, because he was not the last man - Brown was alongside him.

Davison was relieved to see Coppinger's effort, from the free-kick, curl wide of his post. And the U's were also relieved to reach half-time with the score still goalless.

The agile Davison pulled off an unorthodox save inside the opening few minutes of the second-half. Coppinger's opportunist 30-yard drive took a wicked deflection, forcing Davison to stick out a leg to prevent the ball from flying past him. Fortunately, no home player was on hand to benefit from the rebound.

United had not managed a shot on target in the first period, and they again lacked a killer touch following a period of pressure in the 57th minute. Duguid's header ballooned wide.

There was a heart-stopping moment for the visitors when Neil Roberts nipped behind centre-halves Brown and Chilvers. However, the Welshman scuffed his shot and Davison mopped up.

U's boss Parkinson made a change in the 68th minute. He handed Blackpool loanee Scott Vernon his debut, in place of a tiring Iwelumo up front.

Davison denied Lewis Guy twice in quick succession around the 70-minute mark. First, the U's keeper beat away Guy's cross-cum-shot, and then he smothered a long-range drive from the Rovers front-runner.

Rovers manager Dave Penney made a switch in attack on 79 minutes, by introducing former Ipswich Town marksman Alun Armstrong for Neil Roberts.

The Yorkshire hosts mounted a late rally and Brown conceded three quickfire corners. He headed two behind and Davison clutched on to the other one, above Price's head.

There was a glimmer of hope for the U's when Vernon found Halford in space down the right wing. The big man swept over a dangerous cross, which Thorpe nearly managed to turn in. But the former Luton and Bristol City striker was well-marked by two defenders.

In the 87th minute, substitute Armstrong was handed a half-chance by Price, only to lift his shot well over the top. That was the last scoring opportunity for the hosts.

United threatened just once in stoppage time. Substitute Mark Yeates engineered a breakaway, but sliced his shot off target from a narrow angle, and Halford's follow-up was charged down by a defender.

The U's did not really deserve to steal a late winner, but they will be happy with the point.

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