Date:Monday April 30 2007
Target-man Iwelumo hits the spot but U`s look destined to finish a magnificent 7th
Stoke (0) 3 Colchester (1) 1
The Britannia Stadium
Saturday 28th April 2007
Iwelumo, (Pen) 38
Things got slightly surreal at the Britannia Stadium last weekend, as Stoke City buried three chances within eight minutes to practically prevent Colchester United`s dream first season in the Championship from going into added time via the play-offs.
Last week`s omens were all encouraging, what with West Brom and Wolves both succumbing to defeat in the wake of a magnificent U`s win over Premiership-bound Sunderland.
Fate continued to smile on Colchester once more for the whole of this game`s first half, when one-time City slicker Chris Iwelumo hit the string with a penalty for his 18th goal of the season.
Following a second-half Stoke goal-blitz, however, and a Chris Barker red card, the excelling Essex side now lie 7th in the standings, needing a whole host of favours if they are to enter the scrum-style lottery inherent with a top-six finish.
Not that this season in Britain`s oldest recorded town will go down as a glorious failure. There is no failure about it.
Colchester head home for next Sunday`s clash against Crystal Palace with Player of the Year awards yet to be made, a Golden Boot accolade for Jamie Cureton still to chase, and a standing ovation from more than 5,000 of the faithful to collect for their year`s work.
A couple of thousand of those season-ticket holding stalwarts made the trip up to Stoke and looked set to be rewarded handsomely, because the U`s created five great chances inside the first half-hour to assert themselves in the game.
Only good saves from Steve Simonsen, first denying Cureton, and then Iwelumo, kept the scores blank. Richard Garcia was also a threat. The product of good interplay between skipper Karl Duguid and Iwelumo ended early on with Garcia`s left-foot sighter being dragged wide.
Revelling in the joy of their attacking forays through Garcia and Hogan Ephraim, starting in place of Johnnie Jackson after his ankle injury, Colchester resumed the quest to break the deadlock.
Ephraim hit the side netting when a Kem Izzet pass had allowed him licence to ghost beyond the disciplined opposing defence.
Soon after, Colchester finally capitalised when Iwelumo, felled in the six-yard box by Stoke`s returning midfielder Salif Diao, was awarded a somewhat dubious penalty.
While none of the U`s players had appealed for the decision, referee Graham Salisbury gave the spot-kick, which Iwelumo duly converted by slotting it to Simonsen`s right.
A melting pot of combined creativity and tension, which appeared to be working in Colchester`s favour against a visibly nervous Stoke side, eventually blew up in their face.
That was despite the rather fortunate decision taken by Salisbury not to book U`s defender Pat Baldwin a second time for raising his arms at the provocative Lee Hendrie.
Shaking the shackles inherent with such a big game, Stoke shocked Colchester when the peripheral figure of Mamady Sidibe headed a Liam Lawrence clip onto the oncoming Darrel Russell, whose header from 12 yards beat an out-stretched Dean Gerken.
Despite carving out another opportunity for Chris Iwelumo, and then watching a Kevin Watson drive balloon over from 20 yards out, the U`s then conceded another quick-fire strike, this time from the energetic Sidibe.
Latching onto a Lawrence through-ball, he beat Gerken by picking out the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
The pumping Potters then produced a third goal, through their Player of the Year and captain, Danny Higgingbotham. His diving header was planted from close range to end a nightmare spell of supreme finishing by City.
The U`s, left to rue missed chances, then lost Chris Barker when the Colchester left-back elbowed the mischievous Hendrie, who had already been responsible for drawing Baldwin and Duguid into off-the-ball arguments.
Barker was given his marching orders and so remains the only United player to have been sent off at all this season, albeit now twice following a dismissal during a frenetic derby against Southend earlier in the campaign.
On a day of seismic results in the Championship, the tremor caused by this one in particular could be felt back at home in Colchester; a battle lost when the war on survival has already been so spectacularly won.
Date:Monday April 30 2007
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