Date:Monday August 11 2008
Colchester`s anticipated League One return as promotion contenders began on Saturday at Hartlepool with a six-goal thriller, which United duly won. The United of Hartlepool, that is.
The U`s performance during their first game at this level for two years is described best by a line from comedian Eddie Izzard`s sound-bite selection: they collapsed like a flan in a cupboard.
A 2-4 loss at the season`s first hurdle says you might need to adjust your expectation levels instead of the TV set or radio dial. Consider hope`s balloon well and truly popped.
The more you stare at the weekend`s losing result, the more those nagging doubts from last term`s relegation-riled campaign seem to resurface. The U`s record away from home under manager Geraint Williams has been consistently medial, and statistics show the front of his teams have always been stronger than the back.
Optimists might see posing these problems now, with so much football still to play, as a good thing: why the erosion of confidence and competitiveness on the road? Of course, United did not win too many points at home, either, last season, so perhaps this is the wrong line of inquiry.
A more valid riddle, one with a possible solution, asks: why was the defence so out-of-tune? James Brown`s double inside sixty seconds tore apart what was arguably, on paper at least, the division`s strongest back-five. Gerken, White, Coyne, Reid and Lockwood read as the manager`s attempt at a revamp since last season`s leaky-bucket days.
Football is not played on paper, though, and in reality gaping holes before Colchester`s net ushered in the "on fire" Brown and became huge rips in the team`s confidence. One shot on target in the first half, from a team already in minus goals, had fans challenging United`s ability to execute even the fundamentals before an effort was kicked in anger.
It took a rocket from former Colchester loanee Richie Jones, which made it four-nil against, to kick-stark the U`s comeback. Two debut goals from club-record signing Steven Gillespie at least salvaged a positive for the away fans.
One bittersweet observation of the cutting loss was the impact it had in potentially colouring the rest of the season. Colchester United were crushed by Hartlepool for three quarters of the encounter, and during that period a sea of Victoria Park`s visiting faces became as blue as their club`s kit.
Over-generalisations based upon first-game performances are notoriously unreliable but, despite the success of recent years, United have not recorded an opening-day win since 2004, where they one 3-0 against Sheffield Wednesday. Clearly a single match is not an accurate long-term barometer.
The U`s, in truth, are as likely to suffer a consecutive relegation as win promotion. It`s just that the result of averaging these two extremes, after a trade-off in possibilities, brings us predictable mid-table mediocrity; it doesn`t sell any newspapers or matchday tickets.
A convenient justification for this defeat might come from the pages of a pop psychology book, something about how the odds-on title favourites bore the heavy burden of an expected victory. Except boss Williams insisted he and his team were taking a strictly point-by-point approach to the 2007/8 campaign, so the above explanation holds less sway.
One certainty is that the gap between League One and the Championship, from which Colchester United have just returned, cannot be as big as initially thought. Either that, or the U`s are simply in a state of chronic competitive decline where defeat is a comfortable habit lifted straight from last season`s losing run and into the present.
Whichever, the beauty is that Saturday wasn`t the endgame - there are 45 matches still to go before Colchester`s capacity for bouncing back can be judged fairly and in isolation from whatever has gone before.
It's worth remembering, though, excepting Dean Gerken and Mark Yeates, that most of the weekend`s XI are probably only proven fish in League One`s shallow waters, but no higher.
Maybe we, the audience, are to blame, and not Colchester United, for presuming the club is automatically able to top the table right from the very start. They must at least win over 90 minutes before anyone can even think about climbing League One`s long ladder.
Colchester United did against Hartlepool what all rewired sides with a deficiency in collective match experience always tend to do; they short-circuited. Forget received wisdom that states what comes down must go straight back up. Divine right is dead.
Would You Adam And Eve It!
Defender Adam Virgo spent last season loaned to Colchester United from Celtic and played as a goal-protector many times after one sub appearance, and a goal, in his other position as an attacker.
He will go down in U`s history as a mediocre back, showing promise but never performing to the best of his ability in a side that conceded too many goals and consequently suffered relegation. With Virgo, the general feeling was that there was always a good player inside, waiting to get out.
That intuition proved true, because Virgo scored for Brighton last Saturday, with whom he also began his career, just hours after this columnist devised the catchy but perhaps unfair nickname of Adam Vertigo to describe an absence of Colchester goals.
He was playing in midfield over the weekend for the Seagulls, maybe the new position where Virgo will now be able to fuse his love of the apparently opposing arts, defending and attacking.
Apologies go to Adam then, jack of all trades and master of some.
BBC`s Mixed Reception
There are two ways to look at BBC Radio Essex`s bizarre decision to cover just the second half of Colchester United`s first 2008/9 game, as it remains mysterious to most. Bulletins of the first 45-minutes were squeezed between records.
You either applaud their limited broadcast as an incentive encouraging more fans to travel away to actually watch live football, or treat it as another question mark against paying a license fee.
Radio Ga-Ga, if you ask me.
Date:Monday August 11 2008
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