U's stoppage-time heartache
COLCHESTER United suffered stoppage-time heartache at Swindon Town yesterday afternoon, so surrendering their superb recent unbeaten record.The U's looked to be heading for a point from a goal-less stalemate in chilly Wiltshire, until Rory Fallon intervened with a dramatic winner in the second minute of injury-time.
By Carl Marston
COLCHESTER United suffered stoppage-time heartache at Swindon Town yesterday afternoon, so surrendering their superb recent unbeaten record.
The U's looked to be heading for a point from a goal-less stalemate in chilly Wiltshire, until Rory Fallon intervened with a dramatic winner in the second minute of injury-time.
Robins striker Fallon charged in at the near post to meet substitute Hameur Bouazza's strong cross with a bullet header that gave keeper Aidan Davison no chance.
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It was Fallon's 12th goal of the season, and it gave Colchester no time to find a response.
The U's were certainly not at their best, but to concede a winning goal so late in the day was cruel in the extreme, especially after a long Boxing Day journey.
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Their unbeaten run is therefore over, a 12-game sequence of results stretching back into October. Phil Parkinson's men had won 10 and drawn the other two, so bursting into the League One play-off zone, as well as making progress in both the FA Cup and LDV Vans Trophy.
Their last defeat had been the 1-0 home reverse at the hands of Bournemouth, on October 15, at which point they were wallowing in the lower half of the table.
The run was always going to end at some time, and despite yesterday's demoralising defeat, the U's remain in the top six - they began the day in fourth, and finished it in sixth.
Hosts Swindon, meanwhile, were rock bottom before kick-off. They are still propping up the League One table, although they are now only one point adrift of safety.
For Colchester, the important factor will be how they react after this rare defeat. They have a quick chance to bounce back at home to Scunthorpe tomorrow evening.
U's boss Parkinson had reverted to his more familiar starting line-up, having made 10 changes for the LDV Vans Trophy success at MK Dons before Christmas.
But he was not able to name an unchanged side for the sixth consecutive league match, due to Jamie Cureton's enforced absence. Front-runner Cureton, on loan from Swindon until the end of the year, was not allowed to play against his full-time employers.
That handed a first league start of the season for Richard Garcia, who was up front alongside leading scorer Chris Iwelumo.
The U's took the initiative early on and Greg Halford watched as his looping header, from John White's cross, dipped just over the bar in the fourth minute.
A minute later and Iwelumo had a better opportunity. The Scotsman sprang the offside trap to run onto Garcia's precision through ball, only to delay taking his shot too long. His final effort was charged down by left-back Andy Nicholas.
Aidan Davison performed heroics to deny Swindon taking the lead on nine minutes. Ashan Holgate's header from Jack Smith's corner was heading for the net, only for Davison to parry at point-blank range with a wonder save.
That would have been a dream goal for Holgate, because the teenage striker was enjoying his full league debut, after a handful of substitute appearances.
Halford spurned two chances in quick succession. The U's right midfielder rifled into the side-netting, having sneaked behind the Robins rearguard, and then curled a free-kick narrowly over the bar in the 12th minute.
The visitors were forced onto the back foot for a 10-minute spell, until former Swindon midfielder Kevin Watson floated a free-kick into the danger zone. Home striker Fallon was back defending, bundling the ball behind for a corner before Iwelumo could pounce.
The U's defence was fully stretched by a strong run from Ricky Shakes on the half-hour mark. The livewire winger delivered a menacing cross along the face of the six-yard box, and Holgate was only inches away from diverting it home.
Robins keeper Rhys Evans was not required to make a serious save until the 40th minute. The ex-Chelsea trainee dived to his right to clutch onto Garcia's accurate 20-yard drive.
Evans was a mere bystander in first-half injury-time as Garcia again let fly from distance. The Australian was slightly off balance, and as a result his shot ballooned high and wide.
There was a sloppy start to the second period from both sides. Halford gave possession away cheaply on a couple of occasions, and was lucky not to be punished.
Evans kept United at bay on the hour mark. Stefani Miglioranzi conceded a free-kick for a foul on Iwelumo, just outside the box, and Mark Yeates almost made him pay. The Irishman curled his free-kick around the defensive wall, but could not beat the outstretched left hand of Evans. He palmed the ball around his post for a corner.
Swindon substitute Michael Pook caused a stir in the 70th minute. Aaron Brown ran at the U's back-pedalling defence and, when the ball broke for Pook, he was not far adrift with a ferocious shot that whistled inches over the top.
Fellow Robins substitute Bouazza was even closer to a goal in the 81st minute. The Frenchman shrugged off the challenge of Kem Izzet and let fly with a shot that struck Davison on the knee and dropped to safety. The U's keeper knew very little about that effort.
Five minutes later and Izzet was in the action down the other end. The U's substitute benefited from good work by Halford, only to drill his shot over the bar.
Just when a goal-less stalemate looked the likely outcome, Fallon popped up to head home Bouazza's cross from point-blank range.
It was a sad way for Colchester's unbeaten run to end.