U's show stomach for the fight ahead

COLCHESTER United showed that they have the stomach for a promotion scrap, by digging deep to wipe out a 2-0 deficit and so collect another precious point at Chesterfield on Saturday.

By Carl Marston

COLCHESTER United showed that they have the stomach for a promotion scrap, by digging deep to wipe out a 2-0 deficit and so collect another precious point at Chesterfield on Saturday.

There was little change at the top of League One, following this latest round of matches. The U's two chief rivals for the second automatic promotion slot, Brentford and Huddersfield, also came from behind to record away draws at Rotherham and Bournemouth respectively, while fifth-placed Swansea slid to defeat at Blackpool.

For the first 45 minutes, it looked certain as though Phil Parkinson's men would be suffering a defeat of their own at Saltergate. Knocked out of their stride by Jamie O'Hara's third minute opener, they were staring down both barrels when Paul Hall tucked home an 18th minute penalty.

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The turning point of the afternoon arrived in the third and final minute of the first-half. A moment of brilliance from Mark Yeates and the U's were suddenly handed a lifeline.

Just as Tottenham loanee O'Hara had kick-started the Spireites into action, so fellow Tottenham loanee Yeates obliged for the visitors with a tremendous solo goal.

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Yeates embarked on a strong run that saw him slip past three defenders and, although the angle was very tight, the Dubliner managed to squeeze his shot past keeper Barry Roche and in at the far corner of the net.

That changed the whole complexion of the second period, as was reflected by Parkinson's ploy of sending his players out early, five minutes before the scheduled restart.

United should have been level on 57 minutes. Greg Halford whipped over the perfect cross, onto the head of Tony Thorpe, only for the U's front-runner to direct his diving header wide of target. Thorpe is still waiting to break his scoring duck, since his move to Layer Road in January.

The momentum remained with Colchester, however, and their travelling fans, who numbered nearly 400, had a bird's eye view of Chris Iwelumo's crunch equaliser in the 73rd minute.

Iwelumo has suffered a slight dip in form over the last couple of months, but the big Scotsman has persevered. His two goals from the previous 14 games had both been at home, against Swindon and Brentford, yet he chose the ideal time to net his first away goal since his close-range effort at Walsall on January 7.

Karl Duguid, who had given away the first-half penalty, made amends by delivering a pinpoint cross from the left flank for the onrushing Iwelumo to volley home his 19th goal of the campaign.

It was also Iwelumo's 17th league goal of the season, so he has a realistic chance of becoming the first Colchester player to net 20 league goals in a Football League campaign, since Tony Adcock's 24-goal haul in 1984-85.

It was end-to-end excitement for the remainder of the game. The U's could sense an unlikely victory, but Chesterfield also found a second wind, and it was they who came closest to stealing a late winner.

Roy McFarland's men had nose-dived out of the relegation frame with a miserable run of just one win in 11 games. Their only means of satisfaction is to upset the promotion aspirations of others, and O'Hara nearly achieved this when rattling the post with a long-range shot in the 80th minute.

The rebound rolled into the path of substitute Wayne Allison, only for the experienced 37-year-old to blast his shot over the bar. The U's will be hoping that Chesterfield enjoy better luck at promotion rivals Huddersfield this afternoon.

United had opportunities of their own late on. Neil Danns, who had bagged both goals in the 2-0 win over Hartlepool in midweek, nodded narrowly wide from Jamal Campbell-Ryce's 81st minute cross.

And in stoppage time, Yeates tried to emulate his goal-scoring feat from the end of the first-half. His 20-yarder curled just the wrong side of the post.

There are now just four games left of the regular season, and it could still end in three different ways for the U's - automatic promotion, the play-offs, or missing out on the top six altogether.

With Barnsley and Nottingham Forest both winning, it was crucial that the U's did take something from their trip to Chesterfield.

That looked unlikely when O'Hara was allowed to run freely at the U's defence, before beating Davison from 20 yards out with a third minute shot. The U's keeper got a hand to that effort, but could not prevent the ball from rolling into the net.

United's woeful start worsened still further when Duguid was adjudged to have dragged down Alex Bailey, not by referee Eddie Ilderton, but by his assistant. Hall rather scuffed his spot kick, but it was good enough to chalk up his 13th goal of the season.U's boss Parkinson responded by replacing right-back Pat Baldwin with substitute Campbell-Ryce, just after the half-hour-mark, and that additional attacking option was a factor in the U's comeback. Yeates and Iwelumo provided the finishing touches.

Tranmere are the visitors to Layer Road this afternoon. The majority of the promotion candidates are also at home, so the U's will need more than a draw to sustain their push for the top two.

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