Winning chance is missed by U's

IN PAST years, holding an experienced Sheffield United side to a draw, while delivering a heart-warming performance, would have been considered a success.

Carl Marston

IN PAST years, holding an experienced Sheffield United side to a draw, while delivering a heart-warming performance, would have been considered a success.

But those days of just trying to match the bigger guns are gone. The U's are now an established Championship outfit themselves, and in the context of the table, Saturday's result was disappointing.

Expectations are so much higher. Bryan Robson's men may have been a Premier League outfit last season, and with a current side still packed with experience, but they were still there for the taking.

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If anything, the U's let them off the hook. The display was encouraging, following on from the recent Layer Road flops against Peterborough (3-1 defeat) and Blackpool (2-0 defeat), but they let a couple of points slip through their grasp when well set at 2-1 up.

The better team in the first half, Geraint Williams' men were unlucky to find themselves 1-0 down at the break, due to an injury-time goal from the fleet-of-foot Luton Shelton.

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United never really recovered from the blow of conceding an opening goal, again late in the first-half, at Barnsley on Tuesday night. They eventually slithered to a 1-0 defeat at Oakwell, but they showed greater fight, more self-belief and a superior attacking cutting edge against the Blades.

Kevin Lisbie rifled home the equaliser after just 24 seconds of the second-half, and only a third home victory of the season looked on the cards when Johnnie Jackson's long-range free-kick was deflected in via Jon Stead.

Alas, though, one defensive slip allowed David Carney to poach a 66th minute equaliser. The U's could not really lift their game again, and so remain rooted to the foot of the table.

Results elsewhere were mixed. Scunthorpe's 1-0 home win over Charlton has left United marooned at the bottom by three points. Iron remain second-from-bottom.

But on the plus side, Preston and Sheffield Wednesday both suffered defeats, at the hands of Norwich and Ipswich. That means the gap between the U's and safety has now been cut to four points.

There were other negatives, however. Wins for the quartet of Coventry, QPR, Norwich and Blackpool has seen all of them pull further away from United.

Basically, Colchester must not worry about results elsewhere. If they don't start transforming draws into victories, then these other results will be irrelevant.

The key remains the home form. Saturday's draw stretched the U's poor Layer Road record to nine games without a victory. They have not collected three points on home turf since beating high-flying West Brom 3-2 on October 20.

That dreadful run must be rectified if the U's are to stand a chance of still being in the Championship when they move to the new Community Stadium for the start of next season.

The two home debutants, Chris Coyne and Phil Ifil, both made an impact. In fact, ex-Luton skipper Coyne was desperately unlucky not to be celebrating his first goal for the club when his goal-bound header was cleared off the goal-line by Stephen Quinn.

At the other end, former Tottenham full-back Ifil was in the right place to head away Gary Speed's diving header, which was also destined for the net. Both these headers came from corners.

Ironically, Sheffield's opening goal stemmed from a U's corner! The Blades broke swiftly, with Shelton beating Kem Izzet to the loose ball near the half-way line. The Jamaican striker stormed away to slide a low shot past the advancing Dean Gerken for his first-ever Championship goal.

Lisbie's 10th goal of the season was a real treat. Less then a minute into the second half and Izzet turned creator with a great through ball, which released Lisbie in the clear. The ex-Charlton striker's rocket-shot flew into the corner of the net.

There was a blow when Mark Yeates was forced to leave the fray before the hour mark, nursing a dislocated shoulder that could sideline him for a few games.

His replacement was new signing Scott Vernon, who had been recruited from Blackpool at the 11th hour on transfer deadline day. And it was Vernon who won the free-kick from which Jackson's 20-yarder ricocheted off Stead and completely wrong-footed Paddy Kenny.

The U's lead lasted just three minutes. Carney exploited space inside the box to turn and crash home a 12-yard shot, following a free-kick routine.

That took the wind out of Colchester's sails. Jackson glanced a header wide from the last attack of the game, leaving the U's wondering what might have been.

At least there are grounds for optimism.

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