Woeful U's are thrashed by Pilgrims

WHAT could go wrong, did go wrong, as basement dwellers Colchester United crashed to a heavy defeat at Plymouth last night.The U's remain cast adrift at the bottom of the table, and with now only faint hopes of avoiding relegation.

Carl Marston

WHAT could go wrong, did go wrong, as basement dwellers Colchester United crashed to a heavy defeat at Plymouth last night.

The U's remain cast adrift at the bottom of the table, and with now only faint hopes of avoiding relegation. Their already-fragile confidence will have taken a real battering after this latest defeat.

Geraint Williams' men were second best for most of the evening, from the moment that Phil Ifil headed Gary Teale's cross past keeper Dean Gerken for an own goal in the 10th minute, while under pressure from Hungarian attacker Peter Halmosi.

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That was the only goal of the first-half, and Scott Vernon did squander a terrific chance to equalise when scooping his shot over the bar with just keeper Luke McCormick to beat on 37 minutes.

But the Essex visitors were blown away in the second period. Two goals in a three-minute spell killed off the U's, with Jermaine Easter steering home Halmosi's mis-hit shot in the 57th minute, and Steve MacLean then hitting the target with a clinical free-kick.

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There was some brief respite when Kevin Lisbie surged through to bury his 11th goal of the season in the 64th minute, only for Gary Sawyer to

bundle home Plymouth's fourth just four minutes later.

The U's woeful night was complete when new signing Izzy McLeod, who came on as a substitute for his second appearance, was stretchered off after falling awkwardly near the corner flag.

United now have to pick themselves up for another away game at Crystal Palace on Saturday. It will be a tough task.

U's boss Williams rang the changes after Saturday's home defeat to Wolves. Skipper Karl Duguid was sidelined with a badly-bruised foot, while midfielder Kevin Watson and striker Clive Platt were relegated to the bench.

In came Scott Vernon to partner Kevin Lisbie up front, and Bela Balogh was handed his first start since mid-December at left-back.

There was also a full debut for Dean Hammond, following his move from Brighton in January. Hammond's previous two outings had been as a second-half substitute.

Argyle had won four of their previous five fixtures, and they put the U's under pressure in the early stages.

Two quickfire corners were pumped into the box, but on both occasions centre-half Adam Virgo was in the right place to head to safety.

It was not long before United were trailing. Teale swung over a teasing cross from the right wing, and Ifil could only head the ball past his own keeper while under pressure from Halmosi.

Ifil had stooped forward before inadvertently making such firm contact with the ball, from the edge of the six-yard box. The ex-Tottenham full-back will perhaps argue that Halmosi had his foot up too high.

The U's tried to respond quickly, and Hammond was not far adrift with a looping header from Balogh's cross that dropped inches over the bar and onto the top of the net.

Balogh was in referee Mike Russell's bad books in the 22nd minute. The Hungarian international clearly tugged back Teale, just when the Pilgrims winger was preparing to run into the box, and so was flashed the yellow card.

Teale and Halmosi combined well from the ensuing free-kick, before the latter cracked in a fierce 20-yarder that was blocked by a sea of legs.

Right winger Teale was causing Colchester all sorts of problems. That was true again on the half-hour mark when the Scotsman burst past Balogh and whipped over a vicious low cross, into the six-yard box.

Gerken was at full stretch to palm away, so denying Jermaine Easter the simple task of sweeping home at the far post.

A minute later and Teale was in the thick of the action again. This time his pinpoint cross was headed over the bar by Easter, with Gerken again exposed.

The U's were struggling to make an impact as an attacking force, but they should really have been celebrating an equaliser in the 37th minute.

Vernon charged through on goal, benefiting from a slip by Gary Sawyer near the touch-line.

The ex-Blackpool striker ran nearly half the length of the pitch, and had time to cut inside Russell Anderson and so give himself a clear sight of goal. However, Vernon ballooned his shot over the bar with just keeper Luke McCormick to beat. It was a bad miss.

The U's registered just one shot on target in the first-half, and that was a rather tame 25-yard drive from Johnnie Jackson, on 43 minutes, which rolled harmlessly into the arms of McCormick.

They did earn their second corner of the evening in first-half stoppage time, but Virgo was unlucky to see his instinctive header fly wide of target from Jackson's deflected delivery.

Three minutes into the second-half and the U's had a good opportunity to grab the leveller. Jackson swung over a free-kick from the right wing and Virgo spooned his header over the bar from a promising position.

At the other end, Gerken completely miscued his attempted clearance, with the ball squirming behind for a corner. The hosts took the corner quickly, and Nadjim Abdou should have done better when firing into the side-netting from close-in.

However, the U's conceded a second goal in the 57th minute, and there was more than a touch of good fortune about Easter's third goal of the campaign.

Gerken initially performed heroics to prevent Teale's overhead kick from dropping into his net.

He managed to claw the ball out of his six-yard box, on tip-toes, but the shots then rained in from the rebound.

A low drive from Lilian Nalis was blocked, and Halmosi's follow-up shot was going wide until it ricocheted off Easter and into the net from eight yards out.

Colchester's fate was sealed when MacLean smashed home the third from a 20-yard free-kick on the hour mark.

Ifil was booked for clipping the heels of Halmosi, and Plymouth struck from the ensuing set-piece. Gerken was powerless to prevent MacLean's shot from sneaking in at the far post.

The U's pulled a goal back in the 64th minute, thanks to a slick finish from Lisbie.

The ex-Charlton striker burst onto Kem Izzet's pass and calmly slotted the ball past the advancing McCormick with the outside of his right boot. It was Lisbie's 11th goal of the season.

Williams immediately made a double substitution, by introducing front-runners Clive Platt and Izzy McLeod for Scott Vernon and Kevin McLeod.

And Izzy McLeod made a quick impression. The Charlton loanee released Lisbie down the left wing and then burst into the penalty area to meet the cross with a shot that was diverted wide off a defender.

But Plymouth took just four minutes to restore their three-goal advantage. Sawyer ghosted in at the far post to stab home Teale's deep cross, the ball trickling over the line despite the despairing lunge of Chris Coyne. It was the first goal of Sawyer's career.

The U's misery deepened when Izzy McLeod fell heavily under a challenge by Timar, near the corner flag, and was stretched off. That summed up the U's night.

Medi Elito therefore appeared as a 76th minute substitute to make his senior debut, but the teenager had little chance to shine as the Pilgrims remained firmly in the driving seat.

In fact, the U's were just relieved not to concede any more goals. It was their joint heaviest defeat of the season, matching the 4-1 defeat at Cardiff from December.

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