With work commitments precluding a trip to Colchester last night (they will also deny me the joys of a return to Elland Road and ensure I am out of the UK for the Barnet game), I am indebted to another colleague for a match assessment. This one comes comes from Poorsodhastolivewithapalacefan Addick.
I knew it was gonna be trouble when I smelt manure as we stepped out of the car – welcome to the countryside. The usual epic round of emails and text messages had finally co-ordinated a posse of 12 of us to the Weston Homes stadium, some attracted by the visit to a new ground and the prospect a further victory in our unbeaten run so far. The satnav was certainly confused, recommending several times that we do a U-turn as we approached the ground. Maybe we should’ve heeded it.
All was going swimmingly until Llera decided to head a cross from deep from the right back to Elliot... who wasn’t there! We seemed to be still in shock when Colchester’s big striker found another long ball dropping to him over the heads of our back four and lashed it into the far corner from inside the box on our left. We then needed to up it right from the start of the second half to get anything out of the game, like we did at Leyton Orient. But we just carried on as in the first half and eventually suffered our first defeat of the season. Three nil was perhaps a little harsh but no doubt we deserved no points.
The ground is a neat little affair, reminding some of the new den but without the rust. Personally I thought it was a bit like Rushden’s stadium only a touch bigger. Capacity about 11,000 expandable up to 18,000, but with a crowd of only just over 7,000 last night I don’t think it will require expansion for some time yet. A reasonable test of a new stadium I decided would be if they had some wine on offer... and they had! My fellow beer drinker was similarly excited at the prospect of some Greene King IPA but he gave the verdict “cooking beer, too cold”. The Australian red wine, however, was the nicest I’ve tasted at a football ground, which isn’t saying much, though rather overpriced at £3.80 for 18.75 cl.
Off to our seats and encouraged to hear the team and subs were the same as on Saturday against Exeter. The pitch looked small, and, indeed as if it had been recently narrowed. A sure indication of a poor home team I thought. We started fairly brightly with Bailey, Youga and Sam prominent. Burton managed to get through onto about 4 long balls while the home defence stood and watched but the chances all went as he took too long and allowed chasing defenders/goalkeeper to catch him. Not what we’ve come to expect. There were a couple of instances where low cross from Bailey went flashing across the face of goal with red shirts in attendance but no telling touch was applied. This gave the old feeling that it was only a matter of time – a false one in the end.
Colchester did seem to be winning more of the physical challenges in the middle of the park however, and up front, muscling Dailly and particularly Llera away. It was then that I noticed that Lisbie was deployed wide on Colchester’s right for some reason, which I was quite happy about – he seemed less effective there. He did a few tricks, as we know he can do, but it was all far away from the danger area. So they had a big lump up front and a nippy guy. I felt we missed Semedo as our 5 in midfield was being matched, in determination at least, by their 4.
As has happened so far this season we seemed to be content to rely on the opposition cocking up their chances, one memorable shot from their big guy going for a throw. Then suddenly, after about 20 minutes, we showed them how to find their target. As Llera’s header went goalwards there was that horrible anticipation by the crowd, rising in volume as the ball rolled ever onwards, just beating Elliot’s about turn, sprint and dive. I was in the home end (well, side) in order to accompany some in-laws who reside in Colchester, and can report the locals enjoyed celebration and laughter in equal measure. Having witnessed so many donations this season it was about time we returned the compliment.
Given our form this season I was still confident however, a feeling I’ve not had since the last time we gained a promotion. Llera seemed determined to make up for his error when we had a set piece in their box shortly after. But two minutes later confidence was further tested as our defence again showed its generosity, copying the home efforts when they had earlier given Burton the red carpet treatment. This time, however, with confidence buoyed, their forward found the target. Two nil. Deja vu from when Pardew’s team came to this town. A feeling of bubble bursting was stirring uncomfortably in my loins. On that occasion we fought back and could’ve won it. It would need a similar effort after the break.
The rest of the first half swung slowly towards the home side as they won the physical challenges and our wide men were less and less effective. Burton looked isolated more and more. When the second half started and I saw Richardson walk slowly over to take a throw-in I could see the required determination was not going to materialize and I feared the worst. So many of our players were not having the impact on the game that we know they can have. Only Racon seemed to be at his normal level. Bailey was not seeing so much of the ball. I began to work out what subs should be coming on, picking out Spring as a bit of a weak link – Racon seemed to be yearning for Semedo to be alongside him.
But poor old Parky, taunted by the home fans to tell them the score, was overtaken by events. Elliot, who had earlier caught or punched dangerous balls away well, came and failed to deal with another long ball (the pitch must have been small as goalkeeper’s kicks were regularly landing in the opposite penalty area), and yet again the balls ‘stuck’ instead of being cleared. In the ensuing melee their striker managed to flick the ball with his right foot towards our unguarded goal. Three nil, game over. We really didn’t look like coming back now.
Parky rang the changes now and things improved a bit but too little, too late: Spring made way for McLeod and we went 4-4-2 – initially lively but too quickly petered out; Llera was finally put out of his misery, and will have felt somewhat uncomfortable as some prodigious leaping by his replacement, Sodje, repeatedly headed away from their big guy up front – Llera may have to rely on Sodje’s injury, which flared up again as the game wore on, to get his place back (ed note: Sodje is off soon for the Nigeria squad). The only other incidents of note I can remember were yellow cards for Burton (lashed out a bit in frustration at continually failing to beat his marker) and Shelvey (charged into an opponent (and a team mate I thought), nearly getting a red card). Can’t remember their keeper having to do too much. We were outfought. I think maybe we’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by the poverty of the teams we’ve played so far this season – we seemed to expect opponents to wilt in front of us. With Aidy Boothroyd stamping his image on his team we never earnt the right to play.
So the depressing feeling of defeat was with us again after several months’ absence, exacerbated by being kept in for 30 minutes in the car park while the tiny crowd dispersed, and then having to drive through several villages while the A12 was being resurfaced in places, and then getting to the A20 junction and finding it was closed. Why do these things only happen after a defeat?
Elliot: 7/10 – would’ve been 6 but he was dominant in the air, at least until the third goal.
Richardson: 7/10 – got forward well for a change and one of the few to have a decent game
Youga: 6/10 – too often found wanting in defence, though did get forward well in the early stages
Dailly: 6/10 – not as dominant as we’ve come to expect
Llera: 4/10 – bit of a mare for him, discord in the back for (that I saw early signs of against Exeter) was centred on him
Spring: 5/10 – failed to fill in for Semedo quite so well as against Exeter – with Llera, will cause Parky to think about reshuffling the team for the first time this season
Racon: 7/10 – looked stylish in possession and determined in defence but couldn’t do it all on his own
Sam: 6/10 – showed his usual skill but not enough end-product. Happening too often
Baliey: 6/10 – good work and our most likely outlet but in the end not effective. 6 maybe a bit harsh but his early work didn’t result in a goal.
Shelvey: 6/10 – not effective enough, failing to chase to win the ball back after losing it too often
Burton: 5/10 – it was too easy for Colchester’s defenders and he fluffed several chances in our early dominant period.