U's standards slip

THERE was a time, and not many years ago, when Colchester United slumping to a heavy defeat at Leeds United would not have caused the batting of an eyelid.

By Carl Marston

THERE was a time, and not many years ago, when Colchester United slumping to a heavy defeat at Leeds United would not have caused the batting of an eyelid.

But those times are gone. The U's have set themselves some very high standards this season and Saturday was the first time that they had fallen well short of matching those expectations.

Struggling Leeds, second from bottom before kick-off, coasted to victory through a brace from Robbie Blake, and a pinpoint header from Richard Cresswell. It was some light relief for the Elland Road faithful, who have had to endure so much disappointment in recent years.

Nothing went right for Colchester. It began with star player Greg Halford failing a fitness test on an ankle injury and, just as the weather deteriorated in wet and blustery Yorkshire, so Geraint Williams' men struggled to get a grip of the game.

Too many visiting players had off-days. Leeds had been on the wrong end of some humiliating defeats this season, and their confidence was brittle. But the U's could not take advantage.

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They certainly had no luck. Referee Michael Jones harshly awarded a penalty against John White for a push on Cresswell (he just seemed to lose his footing), which gifted Leeds their third goal. And Mr Jones then denied the U's a perfectly good goal, netted by Jamie Cureton, by failing to play the advantage following a foul on Johnnie Jackson.

Midfielder Jackson, easily the U's best player on the park, also struck the woodwork late on with a low drive that was deflected off the foot of Leeds' debutant defender Matt Heath.

However, Colchester's first-ever league meeting with Leeds was not really a hard-luck story. Mistakes led to the hosts' first two goals, which decided the outcome of the afternoon.

The warning bells were already sounding before Blake broke the deadlock. The former Burnley marksman was not far adrift with a slick header from Eddie Lewis' 22nd minute cross and he was then thwarted by Aidan Davison's smart save from a goalbound low drive.

The U's kept giving the ball away, especially in the middle of the park, and they were finally made to pay with Blake's opener in the 36th minute. White lost possession and Leeds skipper Shaun Derry swiftly released Blake, who ran towards Wayne Brown before veering to his left and sweeping home an accurate shot from the edge of the box.

The home side were worth their 1-0 lead at half-time. Keeper Graham Stack did not have to make a save, although he was relieved to see Chris Iwelumo's header, from White's excellent cross, drift wide of his far post on 44 minutes.

Any hopes of a Colchester rearguard were killed off inside seven minutes of the second period, as Dennis Wise watched his side poach two more goals.

Kem Izzet's misplaced pass enabled Lewis to burst down the left flank, and the American curled over a pinpoint cross for an unmarked Cresswell to head home his first goal of the season.

Two-down after 48 minutes, it was soon three as White was harshly adjudged to have dragged down Cresswell in the box on 52 minutes. Blake cheekily chipped the penalty into the middle of the net, having seen Davison dive to his right. It was his fifth goal of the campaign.

The damage had been done. The U's reserved their best football for the final half-hour, but they had already let Leeds off the hook.

This was their heaviest loss of the campaign - all their previous defeats had been by just the odd goal. Every side is entitled to suffer an off-day, and Colchester certainly suffered that at a half-empty Elland Road.

Leeds winning the Division One title in 1991-92 seems a very long, long time ago. Wise knows that he still faces a daunting task to drag this famous club away from the relegation zone. And even though the U's remain in a good position, in 11th spot, Williams is aware that a poor run of results this month could have a lasting effect on the team.

The Essex club travel to Sunderland's Stadium of Light next Saturday, after which they have back-to-back home games against Phil Parkinson's Hull City and basement club Southend.

As was suspected before the start of the season, the U's fate will hinge on how they perform at Layer Road, not on their travels. Scrambling the odd point away from home will be sufficient, if they can continue their excellent form on home turf.

Tonight, the U's will hopefully get the green light for their proposed new Community Stadium. A final decision is set to be made at a meeting of all parties at Colchester Town Hall.

For the moment, though, the “Layer Dome,” as the players have dubbed their old ground, remains their chief weapon.

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