U's show right qualities to stay up

FREE-scoring at home, gritty on the road. Colchester United have the right blend to stay in the Championship this season.The U's have still only tasted one victory in 12 games on the road this season but, in a way, Saturday's goalless stalemate in south Wales felt like a victory.

By Carl Marston

FREE-scoring at home, gritty on the road. Colchester United have the right blend to stay in the Championship this season.

The U's have still only tasted one victory in 12 games on the road this season but, in a way, Saturday's goalless stalemate in south Wales felt like a victory. It certainly dented Cardiff's promotion credentials.

The Ninian Park faithful booed and jeered their players at the final whistle, which was a little harsh when considered that the Bluebirds are still well-placed in third position.

Their angry reaction also ignored what was a battling display from their Essex opponents.

United have the best home record in the Championship. They have been in irresistible form at Layer Road, winning their last eight home games, and on Saturday they showed another side to their game - an ability to grind out a result on foreign soil.

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The back four were supreme, inspired by another commanding performance from Wayne Brown, who has been a rock all season. Fellow centre-half Pat Baldwin has churned out a string of consistent displays, while Greg Halford and George Elokobi were excellent at full-back. Elokobi has had to bide his time, waiting in the wings while Cardiff City loanee Chris Barker has made the left-back role his own.

But Barker's suspension meant a recall for Elokobi against Hull, and the Cameroon-born defender retained his place at Ninian Park, due to Barker not being allowed to play against his parent club.

Now manager Geraint Williams faces a pleasing problem - who to select at left-back for next weekend's trip to Crystal Palace. Elokobi has advanced his cause over the last week, capped by his best away performance in a U's shirt on Saturday.

Williams' selection dilemmas do not end there either. Keeper Aidan Davison was sidelined by a chest injury, which he first felt during the 5-1 romp over Hull, and his understudy and successor-in-waiting, Dean Gerken, obliged with a very mature display of goalkeeping.

Gerken was not-overworked, but in addition to three quality saves, he also showed good handling from crosses, as well as a shrewd knack of deciding when best to rush off his goalline to smother long through balls.

The recall of Kevin Watson was also crucial. Left-winger Kevin McLeod was unlucky to lose his place, especially after setting up the equaliser in the midweek win over Hull, as well as scoring the first goal in the 3-1 home success over Cardiff from a month ago. But the U's boss wanted to bolster his side in the middle of the park.

The presence of Watson achieved that aim - he had not featured in the previous away defeats at Sunderland (3-1) and Leeds (3-0) due to a calf injury.

Cardiff were eager for revenge, after their humbling defeat at Layer Road on November 4, but they had little joy against Williams' well-organised troops. The Bluebirds have now not scored in more than seven hours of football.

Gerken made two fine saves in the first-half. The 21-year-old kept out Michael Chopra's downward header with his legs on 20 minutes, and then produced the save of the afternoon to divert Riccardo Scimeca's 20-yard thunderbolt over the bar.

It was actually the U's who had the best chance to break the deadlock before the break. Chris Iwelumo was fresh from his four-goal cameo role against Hull, but he failed to connect cleanly with his header from Johnnie Jackson's lofted cross in first-half stoppage time.

The ball skidded off the top of his head and dropped wide of the far post.

City started the second-half brightly, urged on by their impatient supporters. Gerken was at full stretch to cling onto another long-range effort from Scimeca on 50 minutes and nine minutes later Watson was in the right place to clear Roger's Johnson's firm header off the goalline.

However, Dave Jones' men faded badly during the final half-hour and it was Colchester who looked the more likely to steal a late winner.

Jamie Guy had scored a crucial goal as a “super-sub” against Cardiff a month ago, and he made another big impact on his introduction for Iwelumo in the 65th minute. The Bluebirds defence were certainly scared of him.

Guy whipped over a low cross which Cureton was just a whisker away from diverting home, and U's leading scorer Cureton peppered the target with three shots from distance in the closing minutes.

In fact, United ended the game on top. They may not have clinched a second away win, but this was a much-improved away display.

Williams, a life-long Cardiff fan, may already have played a big role in denying his childhood club promotion.

The Welshmen will be pleased to see the back of the U's after gaining just one point from their two encounters.

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