Date:Wednesday August 19 2009
Matt Calmus @ WHCS
FINE GOALS from Scott Vernon and Kevin Lisbie answered what everyone was asking yesterday - would football against Gillingham prove the perfect tonic or a thrashing for Colchester? That equation offers the day`s sporting verdict as either success or failure after an altogether traumatic day in the transfer market.
United responded to the loss of their tough-task manager Paul Lambert with an authentic response, which caretaker boss Joe Dunne said typified the town`s entire ethos, securing a not-altogether-easy victory against the newly-promoted Gills to stay top of the league.
Ironically, on a day when Dean Hammond had also turned his back on Colchester prematurely forcing a question of loyalty to hang in the air, United stalwarts, Pat Baldwin and Kem Izzet, shone. The pair have played almost 500 games between them in stripes, but gave such vigorously fresh performances here that it would have been impossible to tell.
Dunne made one enforced change, drafting in Izzet for the wilfully absent Hammond.
Fortune smiled on Colchester last evening, when so much else before that seemed to have gone astray.
As the BBC`s Neil Kelly noted at full-time, anxious fans virtually willed their team to the finish-line; Lisbie`s winning 20th goal in two spells for the club seemed to take an age to leave his boot, but like Vernon`s leveller before half-time, it was the product of a mistake by an otherwise well-organised and skilful Gillingham side.
The visitors enjoyed early forays down the U`s left side, exploiting the space beyond Lee Beevers - John Nutter`s overlapping run was not unchecked so much as too fast to deal with for the game's first goal. Talented midfielder Curtis Weston couldn`t fail to finish his pass from a dangerous penalty-box position.
Neither home fans nor the players, most brought in then so spectacularly spurned though Lambert`s leaving, needed another act of goading to kick them into life, despite Kem Izzet, who headed off the line soon after seeing his side trail, admitting the opposition could have been "out of sight" before the interval.
U`s keeper Ben Williams also had an awkward moment in dealing with a backpass, as an early assault on United`s goal threatened to bring mistakes and play havoc with the player`s nerves.
It was Gillingham who make a mistake, however, with the half well-worn as Colchester grabbed a slightly opportunistic evener. They might have got it earlier than the thirty-eighth minuet, but the speedy breakout that produced it began when Lisbie seized the ball from behind an unawares defender, beating him for pace. Lisbie`s technique, in picking out Scott Vernon, proved pivotal; Lisbie's partner netted perfectly from distance.
Half-time: Colchester 1 - 1 Gillingham
The U`s winner defined a second-half in which Colchester tightened the screw on the slightly shell-shocked away team. Lisbie received Vernon`s square ball in the box to slot it home, much to Baldwin`s delight during the celebrations as he cupped his ear and encouraged the already rowdy South Stand to sing up.
Joel Thomas also made a promising cameo debut on the righthand side, as manager Dunne fortified the team with a late sub; Thomas could have put the game well-and-truly to bed when he almost went clear with just a goalkeeper to beat.
Much like Saturday`s closing moments against Yeovil, this game also held a hair-tearing intensity in the dying phares. The U`s won, protecting thier narrow lead - a hair-raising scoreline and the most significant result of all, ending well a day filled with unpredictable news at a certainly never-dull Colchester United.
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