Curo's Amazing Brace: Saints V Col U
Southampton (1) Colchester United (2) 2
Matthew Calmus, St. Mary`s Stadium
Friday, 16th March 2007
Star turn Cureton smashes superb solvo for sky-high U`s
Cureton 4, 27
Colchester United`s vigilante striker Jamie Cureton struck a sweet brace to seal an almost improbable victory at Southampton`s St. Mary`s stadium; it was possibly the most memorable performance of their maiden Championship season, witnessed by a nationwide audience on Sky Television.
Cureton, who admitted before kick-off that he now aiming for a revised tally of 20 goals for the season, struck twice within the opening half-hour to stun the Saints, which completed a remarkable tale of redemption for the U`s.
Just a fortnight earlier Colchester had contrived to lose 5-1, in a capitulation in front of the cameras away at Derby, but took their chances here, storming to what was only their fourth victory outside of Layer Road`s sanctuary all campaign, whilst at the same time securing a first league double of the season.
By hitting the string twice, sandwiched either side of a reply from Southampton`s impressive Polish striker, Marek Saganowski, United earned the triumph, with Cureton netting his first since February.
Southampton manager George Burley had endured a miserable return to his old club Colchester back in October - where sharpshooter Cureton also scored, in a 2-0 win, - and his side were at first outplayed, and then outfought, by the U`s this time around, too.
Far from being tired following the week`s exertions, after a gruelling three matches inside of six days, the Colchester United side flourished. Perhaps this was to do with the five changes that manager Geraint Williams made from the side defeated by Sheffield Wednesday three days previous. At least one was enforced; skipper Karl Duguid had a knee injury.
Three of the back four, of Chris Barker, Pat Baldwin and the ever-present Wayne Brown, enjoyed recalls to the starting XI, meaning that last Tuesday`s own-goal victim Matthew Mills, and George Elokobi, dropped to the bench.
Williams also recalled Jonnie Jackson on the left side of midfield, while slotting livewire Cureton back into attack, to partner Chris Iwelumo, because he had recovered from a calf strain.
Geraint`s selection policy was vindicated as soon as the fourth minute, when Cureton stabbed the ball home from an Iwelumo assist to give Colchester a surprise lead. Although it also silenced the opposing supporters, United could have been in front even before that.
Kevin Watson had already slammed a potentially dangerous long-range free-kick into the Saints wall, but Cureton soon converted that sweeping move, involving Kemi Izzet and Iwelumo, that lead to his first finish.
The encounter continued to unfold at a rip-roaring pace, as a fine Andrew Surman drive forced the excellent Dean Gerken into a save within a minute of Colchester`s opener. United then had to withstand an onslaught of four Southampton corners over a period of ten minutes, before Richard Garcia broke with the ball, taking it to the six-yard box.
Apparently showed in the back, Garcia`s 17th-minute appeal for a penalty was unluckily dismissed by referee Trevor Kettle, although the Aussie had a hand in setting up Cureton`s sublime second strike a little later.
Cureton, receiving the ball just 30 seconds after Saganowski had evened the scoring (his fourth goal in six matches)with a low drive for Southampton, caressed the ball in an exquisite strike, showing great technique to beat Bartosz Bialkowski.
His magical volley, shot pirouette-like from 15 yards, was an instinctive beauty.
Strike-partner Iwelumo then spurned two opportunities to further extend the lead to 3-1 before the break, leaving United fans to celebrate their efforts tentatively in the striking St. Mary`s stadium at half time.
This was a spectacle in itself, enhanced much by the shirt-waving and raucous caused by Colchester`s fans and provided, in particular, by a rowdy Barside contingent
The second period was more a seesaw-like test of the two defences, with John White penetrating Southampton`s shaky line of four with an early measured cross, which Iewlumo met but was unable to direct on target.
The home side then piled on the pressure, and Colchester attempted to hit them on the break. The Saints failed to convert a sting of chances, such as a cross-cum-shot from Bradley Wright-Philips, which flew out wide, and another from Grzegorz Rasiak, who had replaced his fellow countryman Saganowski.
Rasiak`s 74th-minute half-chance had only become live when Gerken gathered it in the second time of asking, although the U`s outstanding 'keeper went on to deny the same player when he stuck a thunderbolt from 20 yards.
Welsh wizkid Gareth Bale also caused Colchester problems, with a number of cutting diagonal runs, and was by far the best creative outlet for the Saints as they looked for an equaliser, but goalkeeper Gerken stood outstandingly firm.
Gerken, whose woodwork rattled for the second time (via Surman) with just under ten minutes remaining, also protected the one-goal advantage twice more in injury time, first saving Watson`s blushes, when he almost gifted Southampton a goal, and then diverting a shot from another Southampton sub, Leon Best, wide.
The final whistle blew and, unlike at Derby, Colchester came out elated, and with something of which to be proud. Drama, action, skill; this game had it all.
Having jubilantly stayed to milk celebrations and deserved praise, traded between players and fans alike at the final whistle, everyone associated with the club headed dreamily home.
At times during the night, however, it had almost been possible to imagine that this marathon of a game had been played under the lights at Layer Road, and not a few hundred miles away - on England`s south coast - such was the unpredictable and astonishing nature of this fantastic win.