U's never threatened away win

COLCHESTER United never seriously threatened to record a first-ever win at Stoke City, and in the process they surrendered this season's unbeaten away league record.

By Carl Marston

COLCHESTER United never seriously threatened to record a first-ever win at Stoke City, and in the process they surrendered this season's unbeaten away league record.

The Potters, with a mixture of brute strength and positive thinking, were good value for Saturday's win. They are up to fourth in the Championship table, and are clearly one of the best-organised teams in the division.

Bolstered by an early goal from rookie defender Ryan Shawcross, Stoke also recovered from the shock of conceding Clive Platt's equaliser to restore their lead through what proved to be Liam Lawrence's lethal 73rd minute winner.

The U's were desperately disappointing, at least in the first-half. They were second to the loose ball, over-stretched in defence and nondescript going forward.

Losing their skipper, Karl Duguid, to a twisted ankle just after the half-hour mark did not help their cause. But by then they were already second best. It's difficult to pick out too many highlights, although the U's did again show their battling qualities after the break. They had fallen behind in their trips to Sheffield United, Southampton and Blackpool, only to bounce back to record draws, and they were close to repeating the dose in the Potteries.

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Geraint Williams' men actually scored with their first effort on target to level the issue in the 58th minute. Goalscorer Platt had his team-mates to thank for engineering the slickest move of the match.

Johnnie Jackson flicked on Dean Gerken's kick, and Kevin Lisbie opened up the Potters rearguard by spreading play quickly to Danny Granville. The experienced left-back, who has played on the left wing for the last couple of games, delivered a hanging cross for the powerful Platt to head firmly home from six yards out.

It was Platt's third goal of the season, since his summer move from MK Dons, not a bad haul for a centre-forward who missed three games through suspension during the first month. It was also his second goal in four days, following his pinpoint header in the 4-2 victory over QPR.

There was always the possibility that Stoke, beaten just once this season, would become demoralised after conceding to the U's first effort on goal. But they stuck to their game-plan and took full advantage of a lapse in concentration with 17 minutes remaining.

Ex-Ipswich Town loanee Ricardo Fuller trapped substitute Jon Parkin's header and released Lawrence with an accurate pass. Elokobi had been sucked in and was unable to prevent the ex-Sunderland winger from stealing a march and then rifling home a sweetly-struck shot from 18 yards out.

This time there was no way back for Colchester. They had threatened just before Lawrence's winner, when Platt and Granville nearly bundled home from inside the six-yard box, but their only other goal attempt was Jamie Guy's deflected shot, that Steve Simonsen easily gathered with two minutes left on the clock.

Once again, Mark Yeates was always the most likely outlet for a U's goal. The ex-Tottenham winger did not enjoy his most dazzling display of the season, by a long chalk, but it required the close attentions of two defenders to keep him quiet.

The U's tended to be over-run in midfield, especially in the first-half when the hard-working John Eustace was in control. Jackson was a yard off the pace, although he stamped his authority on the second period.

It's just a pity that he can't pull the trigger with his shooting just a split-second earlier - too often his goal-bound shots are blocked by defenders around the edge of the box.

Williams will be concerned that his defence are still leaking too many goals (17 in 10 matches). They look especially vulnerable from corners, and it was an eighth minute delivery from Lawrence that enabled Manchester United loanee Shawcross to head home his fourth goal of the campaign, by nipping in between Platt and Pat Baldwin.

But the team as a whole should still hold their own in this division. It must also be remembered that Teddy Sheringham has missed half of the games with a hamstring injury. His return will be a big boost.

The U's will have wanted a few more points than the 11 so far accrued from 10 league fixtures, going into this latest two-week break for internationals.

Their performances have perhaps merited a few more, but they now face a tough run of fixtures. The second half of October features a home match against promotion favourites West Brom, and back-to-back away games at Ipswich and Coventry.

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