U's not producing best often enough

IT'S probably just as well that Colchester United don't cross swords with Leicester City very often. They are never very entertaining affairs.The two clubs had never met until the U's won promotion to the Championship in 2006.

By Carl Marston

IT'S probably just as well that Colchester United don't cross swords with Leicester City very often. They are never very entertaining affairs.

The two clubs had never met until the U's won promotion to the Championship in 2006. Last season's two encounters both ended in draws, with a drab goalless stalemate at the Walkers Stadium and a 1-1 score-line at Layer Road.

A third draw on the bounce was always on the cards in front of the Sky TV cameras. It felt like a night game, played under floodlights with a tea-time kick-off, but this latest game lacked the drama that usually accompanies an evening clash at Layer Road.


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It was difficult to gauge who was the happier of the two teams. Leicester had the boost of an early goal, courtesy of Collins John's seventh minute opener, and if anything they shaded the contest, both in terms of possession and chances.

The U's were never at their best, rocked back on their heels by yet another early goal, but once again they displayed the battling qualities to claw themselves back on level terms.

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Johnnie Jackson chose the perfect time to net his first goal of the season, on the stroke of half-time, and so gave the hosts genuine hope of recording a third straight home victory. Geraint Williams' men began the second-half in the ascendancy, but they rather fell away and Leicester looked the more likely to steal a late winner.

Manager Williams said that he was “disappointed” with the result, while goal-scorer Jackson insisted that he was “not too disappointed with the point.” It was that sort of game!

The U's look good enough to retain their Championship status for another season, but it's clear that the squad is not as strong as last term.

The defence lacks the towering presence of Wayne Brown, and Williams does not have as many attacking options, especially with Teddy Sheringham serving a three-match suspension and Jamie Guy struggling to overcome a hamstring injury. A utility attacker like Richard Garcia (now a team-mate of Brown at Hull) would have been a useful weapon on Saturday evening.

But United have still come a very long way, in such a short space of time - to have held former Premier League outfit Leicester to three draws in three matches over the last year would have been considered a major feat just a few seasons ago.

There was also a big boost in the shape of Kevin Watson, who made his first appearance of the season following a frustrating spell on the sidelines with Achilles tendon and calf problems. Watson bossed the midfield for an hour, before his premature departure with cramp.

Watson, at the age of 33, is still a vital cog for the U's midfield. His fitness will be crucial over the coming months.

Leicester stunned a good Layer Road crowd - the third biggest of the season (5,661), despite the presence of the TV cameras - by scoring through Fulham loanee John with one of their first attacks.

Former Birmingham City front-runner DJ Campbell was the creator, turning smartly to slide over a low cross for John to sweep home from six yards out. The U's defence had been caught flat-footed, but to their credit, they closed down their opponents effectively for the rest of the game.

There was just one more glaring error, when defender Matthew Connolly collided with keeper Dean Gerken in the 23rd minute. John looked poised to tuck the loose ball into an unguarded net for his second goal inside a week, following his effort in the 2-0 win over Barnsley, but Arsenal loanee Connolly recovered in time to block-tackle.

The U's never found top gear. Danny Granville, enjoying his first start as a left-back (rather than left-midfield), crashed a long-range shot that Marton Fulop saved at his near post, and Mark Yeates hooked a free-kick wide, but the equaliser came out of the blue.

Just a few seconds of the first-half remained when Yeates, who has been outstanding this season, produced a marvellous cross from the right for Jackson to meet with a downward header that rolled in at the near post, despite Fulop getting his hands to the ball.

Jackson's third goal in a U's shirt inspired the hosts for the first 10 minutes of the second period, but it was Leicester who finished the stronger.

Pat Baldwin made two vital challenges in quick succession to cut out John's cross, and then block Matty Fryatt's goal-bound shot, and ex-Walsall hot-shot Fryatt threatened again on 77 minutes with a low drive that Gerken parried.

On a positive note, then, this was another point for the U's after consecutive away defeats at Ipswich and Coventry. They remain in 16th spot with a chance to chalk up a third home win of the campaign against Plymouth tomorrow evening.

Alternatively, on the negative side, they have still only kept one clean-sheet from 15 league and cup games, which is a worrying statistic.

Saturday evening provided very few answers. The jury is still out on the U's this season.

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