Preston 1 Colchester 0
Home for Christmas: U`s can`t wait to be back in Essex after narrow defeat
Preston NE(0) 1 Colchester United (0) 0
Saturday, 23rd December 2006
Colchester United, unlucky to lose in this game of narrow margins against Preston North End, travel back to Essex in the knowledge that skipper Karl Duguid may miss a large part the demanding festive fixture period with injury.
The 28-year old midfielder, taken out of the game soon after kick-off, appeared to collide with a goalpost and then 'keeper Carlo Nash, in what analysis later showed to be the best opportunity for United throughout 90 minutes.
The incident happened as the U`s looked to emulate last weekend`s rip-roaring start against Stoke City, and Duguid latched onto a high ball into the box, which overran slightly. Nash attempted to claim it, with successes, although Duguid was never likely to pull out of the challenge.
Johnny Jackson stepped up as his replacement, as the event threatened to set the tone for the whole game. It was an event displaying passion and desire, which many punters will try to tell you is a spent force in modern football.
It turned out that both teams would strive to atone for their relative skill deficits by increasing work-rate, which sometimes boiled over into violent frustration. Anybody watching David Nugent`s second-half tackle of Pat Baldwin - which led to a booking - would agree.
The England Under-21 starlet`s goal, the product of a knock-down from Danny Dichio, is what will make the headlines in the North West. Preston demonstrated their potential Premiership credentials, by grinding out a result that they did not necessarily deserve. It is a credit to Colchester that they do not tend to capitulate easily, but Preston showed why their long unbeaten home record (last league lost October '05) remains in tact.
This fixture could easily have been dressed in the finery of statistics, which read that the home side had taken 23 points on their own ground, with Colchester on 22 (at home) courtesy of some fine form at Layer Road. Preston - at one time bigger than Manchester United - also won the first ever English League and Cup Double in 1881.
Luckily, Colchester did not have to play the Old Invincibles, or any other reputation offered by history. Geraint Williams described the match best beforehand by saying that this game was "a chance" to add to the relegation-beating point target of 50, which United will surpass with four more wins between now and May.
It remained as such when Colchester went a goal down - the match always providing the possibility that United might nick something. Like Robin Hood, the U`s have made a habit of stealing points from established kings to give the poor a fighting chance in the Championship.
A human fascination of supporting the underdog might have seen them willed to victory. It did not, although raised an interesting debate. Are this unfashionable Essex team becoming a favourite of the neutral?
Partly. And it`s not just because they have a comic duo of little and large up front. Jamie Cureton and Chris Iwelumo are the division`s most productive partnership so far (22 goals), and always worth a wager; Cureton still managed to have a good game (missing a great chance in the second-half) without hitting the string.
The only reason why the Colchester United story would not appeal to a general football watcher is that the team continues to beat so many established outfits. To a non-Colchester fan in particular, this constant success could become old news.
Popularity is not an issue for Geraint Williams, whose only worry should be the small squad size. It has coped under duress so far; but Duguid, if unfit, will be a big miss over the next week or so.
The manager also refused to buy into speculation that he could deservedly get nominated as manager of the year, on the basis of getting a maximum output with minimum resources. During the post-match interview, he said: "I don`t read the papers". Maybe the Welshman should invest in a tabloid or two during the next few days as, even after this defeat, he will still be getting rave reviews.