Essex Derby Full Match Report
Laugh or cry? Resounding Colchester victory under red mist shows just how brutal and beautiful football can be
Colchester United (0) 3 Southend United (0) 0
Matthew Calmus, at Layer Road
The Layer Road stands were a breeding ground for rumour and speculation as Colchester United eventually beat county rivals Southend United comfortably on Saturday, with second-half goals from Greg Halford, Pat Baldwin, and Jamie Cureton.
It was what might accurately be described as a typical derby game, where the concept of football as a mere pass-time is stretched to its outer limits; tribal identity and local bragging rights assume a cosmic importance on an occasion like this.
Supporters began exchanging barbs long before jousting commenced on the field, with the Colchester contingent asking their own team: "Are you Bolton in disguise?" That, of course, was a reference to the supposedly 'physical` style with which the U`s play, and their fondness for targeting Chris Iwelumo, whose strength and ability in the air are attributes lending themselves to route one play.
Whisper it, but Colchester actually have more in common with Southend United than they do any Premiership side. The two teams have a fairly brief League history, as Southend (1920) were followed by Colchester (1950) into the county`s elite 92 within 30 years. Before that, both were consigned to wallow in the quagmire of the lower leagues.
Like Colchester, Southend`s assent up the league ladder, under Steve Tilson, has seen them enjoy one of their most exciting renaissance periods in recent history. They also expect to leave Roots Hall at around the same time (2008) as Layer Road will be vacated, which exposes this rivalry as one almost too narcissistic to admit how much of a resemblance it bares to a loathed enemy.
So the Colchester faithful, who sang 'there`s only one team in Essex` were in a state of blissful denial 90 minutes, and three goals, later. A flattering score line, and their overall mid-table league position, validated the boasts.
However, despite being defeated, and bottom of the Championship, the Shrimpers gave a good account of themselves, at least throughout the whole of a goalless first-half. They out-passed Colchester during that time, with Freddy Eastwood prowling ominously and Jamaican Jamal Campbell-Ryce, who rubbed shoulders with David Beckham & Co against England before the World Cup, giving left-back Chris Barker the run-around.
The dynamics of the game altered irreversibly after the interval though. In a game that hardly needed dressing with any more hype, three players were given their marching orders. Comparing the moments when red cards were flourished - stadium reverberating with raucous crescendos of 'off, off, off` - to the half-time mascot charity race, was a good way to illustrate how the sport of football can undulate from beautiful to brutal in the blink of an eye.
The race, dedicated to a regular season-ticket holder who lost her life recently to Leukaemia, also showed sport as a metaphor for life and death. It is not, as Bill Shankly said, 'more important,` but does offer a reason for those grieving to carry on living, and also displays football as a tonic to provide solace, and function as a force of the life-affirming sort.
As a pristine spectacle, at a time approaching the season of goodwill, the game was smashed by the dismissals. The loudest League crowd may have influenced referee Steve Bennett in the sending-off of Southend captain Kevin Maher, who became an early panto villain, but he departed stage left after razing a hand to Karl Duguid`s face. Great conjecture followed as to whether it was entirely justified, although the Colchester skipper faces an internal review by Geraint Williams, amid question marks about him play-acting at the height of the drama.
The second Southend dismissal, for winger Mark Gower, as well as one for U`s left-back Barker, came about after two bookable offences, which were more a product of frustration than malice. With the game still scoreless, Gower talked his way into the book for his first yellow card, after berating the linesman over Maher`s earlier red. At this point, he also gesticulated at home fans in the Family Enclosure, which went unpunished. His second yellow came a few moments later, and it marked the point where the Southend side, reduced to nine, began to capitulate; Colchester could scarcely believe their luck.
The goal rush then ensued, with Gerg Halford`s superb 68-minute smash-and-grab shot flying past opposition 'keeper Darryl Flahavan, which arrived after he had beaten two defenders. The strike was fashioned to impress the home bench, and visiting scouts, in one foul swoop. By the time Pat Baldwin and Jamie Cureton - producing his ninth league goal of the campaign - had added to the score, the debate over whether the referee unintentionally gifted Colchester with three points was in full swing. Either human error, or violent frustration from the away team, was to blame.
Whichever, the hope is that any bad blood will not spill over into the next match, when Hull come to visit. If 'Captain Subtext' was an optional extra during this tie, his presence will be unavoidable on Tuesday night, given the manner of Phil Parkinson`s walkout over the summer. Like the red card debate clouding this Essex derby, there is an argument over how fans should receive Phil when he returns. Cheer or boo? Your choice; just don`t be too hasty to condemn the man responsible for getting the U`s their ticket on this season`s roller-coaster ride in the Championship.
Matt will be joining us as a Co-Ed full time.