United clinch easy win despite single-goal margin
HAD this been a boxing match, then Colchester United would have had Walsall on the ropes, with the visitors being patched up throughout by trusty cuts man, goalkeeper Jimmy Walker.
Such was their dominance, the U’s would have accrued an unassailable points lead but would not have been able to land the knock-out blow.
Had it not been for Walker the hosts could have racked up a cricket score and then there were the opportunities missed by a profligate Kayode Odejayi, who spurned a couple of golden chances.
But John Ward needn’t have worried. Unlike Leyton Orient a fortnight ago, Walsall lacked any kind of imagination and ambition and were content to try and nick a point, even before the dismissal of Andy Butler, who was sent off for his foul on Michail Antonio, which led to Anthony Wordsworth’s decisive penalty.
At the other end, a back-line including the rock that was Magnus Okuonghae hardly put a foot wrong and such discipline pleased Ward as much as his side’s second home league win of the season.
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It took until the 10th minute before United manufactured their first opening, nippy winger Michail Antonio firing wide of Jimmy Walker’s right-hand post.
Walsall were playing long, hopeful balls that were being defended stoutly by the U’s backline and this gave the likes of Wordsworth licence to get on the ball and influence the game.
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And it was the midfielder who had the next chance, curling a free-kick around the wall and bringing a good, sprawling save from Walker who tipped the ball around a post.
Walker then denied Henderson as the striker tried to chip the ball over the veteran before Odejayi headed a Michail Antonio cross high and wide.
Then came the major talking point. Antonio beat Butler for pace and after the defender grabbed a piece of the winger’s shirt, outside the area, Antonio went to ground inside the box and assistant referee Jake Hillier awarded a penalty.
Butler was ordered off, despite protests that he was not the last man, and Wordsworth squeezed the ball past Walker, who got a touch to the midfielder’s effort.
Walker then saved from the industrious Ben Coker, at his near post, as the 10 men of Walsall clung on for the half-time whistle.
A fortnight ago, after a poor first half, Orient came out transformed after the break and grabbed a deserved draw but this was never going to be the case with the Midlanders.
Colchester again took the game to their opponents but Odejayi, who had an off-day in front of goal, inexplicably headed over from four yards with the goal at his mercy.
Further chances came and went and Walker made three more important saves, the pick of the bunch coming from Odejayi’s goalbound header, before substitute Karl Duguid flashed a late header wide.
Walsall’s only effort in anger all day came with six minutes to go, late replacement Ryan Jarvis’ ambitious 50-yard effort sailing over Ben Williams’ bar.