Souhend V U's: Curo Raids Roots Hall
Southend (0) 0 Colchester (1) 3
Cureton, 1, 69, 78
Class act Curo raids Roots Hall
Matthew Calmus, Roots Hall
Good Friday, 6th April 2007
This report was always pretty much going to pen itself, especially when Jamie Cureton tore up fate`s script after just thirty-eight seconds, with his first goal of the afternoon. Two later, concluding the freshest chapter of a rivalry that time almost forgot, and the U`s leading scorer gave those in one corner of Essex a victory - and hat-trick - they couldn`t fail to notice.
Until last season, in fact, a whole generation of fans had missed the county`s fiercest rivalry, between Colchester and Southend, because the teams had not played competitively in the same division since 1990.
This fourth league meeting between the teams, in the space of the last two years ended with the U`s winning, to complete a fantastic double over their regional counterparts.
Technically, it was "six-nil on aggregate," as the jubilant away end noted - because the Layer Road outfit also won by the same score in the corresponding tie in October.
Here, an unshakable team ethic, offset by Cureton`s individual skill, won the game; great sportsmen can turn games quickly and on a whim. Almost as quickly as the number eight turned Efe Sodje for his first strike, in fact.
Veteran Sodje, bandana and all, was the bandit - one who "should have known better", according to his manager, Steve Tilson. The Southend centre-back, with a misjudged header, allowed Cureton to live up to his vigilante tag.
By nicking the ball, the 31-year-old forward exploited a missive hole in the Blues` defence, and the coolness with which he then hit the string left a smoking gun, pointing directly at the opposition.
The afternoon's emotional marathon had begun long before the ball whizzed past Darryl Flahavan, for one-nil, though. Jamie`s eighteenth Coca-Cola Championship goal, soon eclipsed by a further salvo, propelled the U`s surprisingly to the summit of happiness, where they camped all match.
Fortifying the standard bravado that comes with any territorial fight for local bragging rights, it gave Colchester cause to taunt the neighbours with that well-worn refrain: "There`s only one team in Essex."
Not that Southend entirely vetoed their right to reply; they could not afford to, with relegation back to League One drawing perilously near.
The Blues went close to scoring when Dean Gerken fluffed a goal kick straight toward an oncoming Freddy Eastwood in first-half stoppage time. Thankfully, the ball rolled wide.
For Eastwood, who is currently his side`s top scorer with 12 league goals, that flash-chance was to prove his best opportunity.
The newly-qualified Welsh international did make inroads on a number of occasions, only to see his shots balloon wide both before the break. He was otherwise subdue, although headed over the bar on 78 minutes.
Gerken, meanwhile, who is fast becoming a contender for Colchester Player of the Year, made no other glaring errors, and was otherwise sound between the sticks, keeping what was a sixth clean-sheet of the last twelve matches, on the return to his home town.
His smartest stop, amid a host of catches made to look like routine, kept out a Peter Clake close-range header, which seemed destined for the back of the net after Steve Hammell`s free-kick early in the second half.
Colchester skipper Karl Duduid also played exceptionally well, spooning a goal-bound effort wide early in the second period. The right-sided player also put a shot wide at the end of the game.
His selection as a full-back, first employed by Phil Parkinson to aid his return to fitness after long-term injury worries, appeared to work well on the overlap during counterattacking moves. It typifies positional versatility throughout the squad, also seen with Richard Garcia and Johnnie Jackson.
Jamie Cureton, when on form, can weave throughout this adaptive framework with ease. He did so for his second goal, midway through the second half, steaming into the area before slamming a 25-yard rocket past Flahavan`s right hand.
He then secured his hat-trick, and the match ball, with 78 minutes on the clock, by plating a cheeky chip into the middle of the goal from inside the box, following a Chris Barker assist.
Cureton received a deserved standing ovation from the travelling supporters for his afternoon`s work, after becoming the club`s fist marksman to hit twenty goals since Tony Adcock in 1984-5.
He said: "I`m really confident at the moment, but it`s more than just me. I might be getting the headlines, but this is down to the whole squad. There is no selfishness. It`s been a great day for me and the club."
At the final whistle, the bizarre thought occurred that the U`s might do Southend a favour by dispatching their relegation rivals Leeds on Easter Monday, 72 hours after sending the Blues so close to the Championship`s trap door.
U`s sub Jamie Guy, entering the foray late on, even made light of the Essex feud on the sidelines, when shaking hands with his former team-mate, Southend`s Jamal Campbell-Ryce.
After such a colourful past, however, the two teams are not about to delve into the sympathy business, although Colchester might still fancy shoehorning themselves into the top-six before May.
Cureton again: "I suppose there is still a chance of making the play-offs. We`re not really thinking about that in the dressing room. We`ll be pleased wherever we finish."
The dreamily distant thought of more glory was still in the air as a Southend fan spoke sincerely in the direction of a small crowd of U`s fans walking back to their vehicles: "Well done to your lads, well played," he said, without hint of abuse.
During that little scene, a few hundred years from the Roots Hall, it seemed for a moment that United should long for Southend to survive relegation, in the interest of creating more derby games.
Perhaps not. But, because the exchange ironically took place on Colchester Road, what they`re saying actually appears true: all roads do lead back to Layer Drome.