Unlucky U's back in relegation zone

DON'T panic, but Colchester United are now back in the relegation zone!

Carl Marston

DON'T panic, but Colchester United are now back in the relegation zone!

I say don't panic, because although the U's slithered to a third defeat on the bounce, pipped by promotion-chasing Peterborough, this was not the performance of a team in trouble.

The U's may have dropped to fourth-from-bottom, leapfrogged by tomorrow's visitors Yeovil, but there is no sense of doom and gloom around the Community Stadium. It might seem a little flat, but the U's do not have the look of relegation fodder.

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Basically, what could go wrong, did go wrong, at London Road on Saturday. The U's pushed Posh to the limit, and on another day could have earned at least a draw. But a remarkable sequence of injuries made their task doubly difficult.

Paul Lambert's men are short of luck. Not one, not two, but three injuries ravaged the team's defensive department - every time you looked up, there seemed to be a Colchester defender hobbling off the pitch!

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United certainly paid for not having a recognised centre-half on the bench - Paul Reid was still sidelined with his foot problem, while Chris Coyne did not travel after playing for Australia in Bahrain on Wednesday night.

One quarter of the game gone, and with the U's in the driving seat, the first slice of misfortune struck. Matt Heath limped off, requiring Lambert to think on his feet. The result was to introduce Phil Ifil as a 21st-minute substitute, to replace Heath in the heart of defence. Ifil had spent virtually the whole of his career as a full-back.

Ifil, despite a lack of inches, had a good afternoon alongside Pat Baldwin. Peterborough's two front-runners, Craig Mackail-Smith and Aaron Mclean, are deadly in front of goal but not a big threat in the air.

However, matters became more serious when John White also trudged off the pitch, suffering from a swollen ankle, in the 35th minute. There were more discussions between Lambert and his assistant, Ian Culverhouse, before second substitute Lee Hills was instructed to play in his normal left-back role, with Johnnie Jackson switching to right-back.

Jackson is a left-footer who is more at home in midfield than on the flank, so this was a test of the unknown for the ex-Tottenham man. Peterborough's left winger, George Boyd, is a handful on most occasions, especially when faced with an uncomfortable right-back in front of him.

And man-of-the-match Boyd was to inspire both Posh goals. The opener arrived in first-half stoppage time, with Boyd floating a delightful long ball over the head of Baldwin. Leading scorer Mackail-Smith burst through on goal, and although Baldwin and Hills were closing in on him, the ex-Dagenham & Redbridge striker kept his composure to squeeze a shot past Dean Gerken. It was his 14th goal of the campaign.

This was a body blow for the U's, who had created the better of the scoring opportunities during the first half. They also had appeals for a penalty turned down on the half-hour mark, when David Perkins's shot from Jermaine Easter's low cross appeared to be deflected wide off a defender's hand.

The equaliser arrived in the 61st minute. Posh old boy Clive Platt headed home Perkins' pinpoint cross from the left flank, much to the annoyance of the London Road faithful. It was Platt's third goal of the season.

But, alas, the U's were level for less than two minutes. Gerken punched away defender Gabriel Zakuani's goal-bound header, only for Boyd to bury the rebound with a thumping shot from 12 yards out.

Then came Colchester's third defensive disruption. Incredibly, substitute Hills was forced to leave the pitch on 66 minutes, due to a knee injury, which prompted third substitute Anthony Wordsworth to play in the unfamiliar role of left-back.

The back four that played the final quarter of the game therefore had only one player in his natural position - Baldwin at centre-half.

Yet the U's nearly upset the odds in the third and last minute of injury-time. Posh could only half-clear a corner, and Kem Izzet's volley was struck cleanly, only to whistle over the bar.

Peterborough boss Darren Ferguson was a relieved man at the final whistle; his opposite number, Lambert, was left thinking that he must have walked under one too many ladders. Football can be a cruel game.

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