Match Report Sheffield Wed V Col U
Sheffield Wednesday (2) 2 Colchester United (0) 0
Mills, 35 (OG)
Attendance: 18,752 Hillsborough
Tuesday, 13th March 2007
The chase, for perennial underdogs Colchester United, is everything, which is why it was so disappointing to see this season`s untameable away form gallop past at Hillsborough like a speedy rodeo horse at this week`s Cheltenham Festival.
Not that United were exactly out of their stirrups at the first hurdle, as they have been with other recently rocky away matches, but Sheffield Wednesday`s manager Brian Laws was clearly keen for his side to avoid a repeat of the hammering that Colchester inflicted in October's corresponding fixture at Layer Road.
The home team began brightly, when Sheffield midfielders Kenny Lunt, who blazed wide after just 25 seconds, and Chris Brunt took early pot-shots at Dean Gerken`s goal, both from outside of the penalty-area.
Brunt, subject to speculation linking him with a summer move to the Premiership, made a nuisance of himself in the seventh minute, too, supplying a cross that Deon Burton flashed just wide.
Colchester recovered from the fast start by Wednesday, as Geraint Williams tried a new formation, which involved making three logical changes to the XI that had drawn with Coventry the previous Saturday.
By promoting Hogan Ephraim in attack, in place of Jamie Cureton - as well as giving George Elukobi a rare start, and re-appointing Matthew Mills as defensive hustler-in-chief, Colchester potentially had a very flexible set-up.
Ephraim, staring this game amid much popular clamour for his inclusion, dropped short of 15-goal target-man Chris Iwelumo to provide him with service, while wingers Richard Garcia and Kevin McLeod moved fluidly to ensure that Colchester`s early play was promising.
It was somewhat unlucky, then, when wing-back Frank Simek hit the string for Wednesday, with his first goal in over a year. The number 20, gifted the ball by McLeod ricochet, struck apex of the penalty box, drilling the ball home, low to the left-hand side of Gerekn`s goal.
Eight minutes later, Colchester's Matthew Mills powered a header past his own 'keeper, virtually ending hopes that they might seal a first win in five games, or seal a first double of the season.The memory of that 4-0 thrashing of Wednesday at Layer Road, of last October was little comfort now.
Mills headed the ball too hard in an attempt to concede only a corner, although there was not a Wednesday player within two yards of Manchester City`s loanee.
To confound Colchester`s evening of woe, captain Karl Duguid was substituted just after the break, with injury.
He is expected to be fit for Friday`s trip to Southampton, while full-back George Elokobi and young stiker, Jamie Guy, did their chances of selection no harm.
Elokobi, unluckily losing his starting-place last autumn to Chris Barker, was most consistent United player on the field, and Guy`s 25 substitute cameo of the season brought a few shots, his confidence high.
This is more than can currently be said of United as a team; they gifted Wednesday a first clean-sheet of 2007, and have leaked ten goals during the last three away outings.
In fact, the only game Colchester have won after conceding the first goal this season was against Hull City - the U`s have collected only five from a possible 48 points on every occasion when going a goal behind.
It has been a great campaign, for sure, because over-achievement is always well-received by Layer Road`s ravenous supporters, and the younger members of United`s small squad (22 different players have been fielded this year) have a bright future ahead of them.
But this game conjured a strictly end-of-season feel, despite the insistences of Media Manager, Matt Hudson, that the U`s would be unwise to take their foot off-the-pedal now that the predicted relegation has become mathematically impossible.
"The abiding memories of any season come in the final third," said Matt during his radio commentary for BBC Essex. "It would be unprofessional of any player to think that it is now job done."