Col U 1 - Preston 0
Richards header sinks high-flyers
Colchester United (0) 1 Preston (0) 0
Scorer: Richards, 67
Tuesday, 30th January 2007
Matthew Calmus, Layer Road
Colchester United`s capacity for writing winning headlines continued as the sale of right-back Greg Halford went through on the same night that they beat a promotion-chasing Preston North End.
Gary Richards grabbed the first professional goal of this career, as United wiped out the glaring statistic that they were without a win in 2007. It wasn`t as bad as all that - despite ignominious losses against rivals Ipswich and lowly Barnet, in the F. A. Cup, - because the unbeaten run at home still stretches all the way back to late August.
The doom-harbinger was having a field day prior to kick-off, what with Halford`s omission and several injury doubts - if the papers were to be believed, United would have to do without five of their normal first XI. After Jamie Cureton and Wayne Brown overcame fitness doubts, and new loan signing Matthew Mills had slotted in at the back, the injury blacklist was considerably shorter.
Debutant Mills - on loan from Manchester City - made an impressive start to what will initially be a month-long Colchester career, until he sustained a knock himself at the end of the first half. The youngster looked composed on the ball, although endured a heart-in-the mouth moment after only 6 minutes as David Nugent unsuccessfully appealed for obstruction in the box.
Colchester grew in stature as the half wore on, after that scare. In the words of opposing manager Paul Simpson: "They defended absolutely superbly; there is no shame in losing to them."
Preston`s notoriously fast strike-paring of Michael Ricketts and Nugent promised to be a handful, although the latter of the pair did not justify a reported £6 million price-tag placed on his shoulders, since he only has 11 goals this season.
People tend to argue that Greg Halford`s transfer fee was too high, at a suspected £2.5 million pounds, although this column is inclined to disagree.
Greg`s versatility (he can play right across defence and anywhere in midfield) will make him a prize asset to his new club, while it goes some way to explaining why United initially wanted £4 million. Having reportedly captured the interest of half the Premiership (read Middlesborough, Watford, Wigan, West Ham, Portsmouth, Manchester City, Sheffield United, Charlton Athletic and Reading), the 22-yeard old finally got a preferred move to the capital city.
Back on the pitch, the oldest of Colchester United servants, Kemi Izzet, was playing a blinder, where he had a shot on goal from 12-yards blocked by Danny Pugh with 32 minutes gone. Izzet, who later tested Preston`s stand-in 'keeper Lonergan twice more, came closer to braking his age-old scoring duct in this game than he has in a long time. Kevin Watson also deserves credit, for he typified Colchester`s desire to do the ugly duties, as well as the pretty, with great appetite.
That is not something that could be said of Preson, whose goalkeeper acted more like a frustrated out-field player than a reliable custodian. His complains at the final whistle, directed at referee Chris Foy, were about a corner award, which resulted in United`s goal. He really could have nothing to argue about, since he had clearly carried the ball over the line.
It left the home team to profit, thus proving to Preston that making substitutions just before the delivery of a set-piece, is not always the wisest thing to do.
Rival manager Simpson had brought on Simon Whaley, replacing Lewis Neal, which left him struggling to pick up his marker in time for the goal, and that gave Richards just enough space to squeeze in his header, after he himself had only been on the field for a few minutes.
In a week where manager Geraint Williams ambitiously called for Col U to record a tally of six points from two matches, against two promotion-hopefuls, first at home to Preston - and then Birmingham on Saturday - the Ian Dury song about 'reasons to be cheerful` comes to mind.
Colchester United, a win away from that safe-house of 50 points with so much football still to play - have plenty of them.