I really don’t feel like I am. Last season you knew you were meant to feel like crap and so it was OK. Shouldn’t this be wonderful? Shouldn’t we be on cloud 9? But since the final whistle of the QPR game (where I had been as nervous as hell for 90 minutes) I had been worrying myself sick about this game. Now I am sitting here worrying myself stupid about the Burnley game. How many other activities that are done for “fun” involve the stomach churning around like this?
Many of you will not know about the Profumo affair. In the sixties a government minister, John Profumo, had an affair with a “call girl” (excellent term – is it ever still used?), Christine Keeler, who was also having an affair with an agent from the Soviet Union (they were the ones we used to fight before we started fighting “Terror”). Anyhow, there was a very good film made about it in 1989 called “Scandal”. The image that has stuck in my mind from the movie was a scene in which Keeler and her friend, Mandy Rice-Davies (who invented the phrase “well he would say that, wouldn’t he?”) went to an orgy. At the orgy there were all sorts of weirdos, including one whose idea of fun was to coat his genitalia in honey and then put a jar full of bees over said genitalia. He got his “pleasure” out of the bees repeatedly stinging his genitals. I just couldn’t get this at all. However, I wonder if this guy is still alive and if he could see what we are doing, allegedly for “fun”, whether he wouldn’t think we were just sick bastards.
The sun was shining brightly in the beer garden of the Maypole, a pub owned by an SAFC fan from the North-East and about 20 minutes brisk walk from the ground. The atmosphere was relaxed – and a little subdued. This was partly because everyone was enjoying the sun, partly because everyone was a little nervous and partly because the only ones with tickets were the ones who go to almost every game – and those who had managed to get home end tickets – mainly exiles. The “almost every game” crowd tend to offer good vocal support but to be honest to get things really raucous you need a few mini-bus full groups of pissed-up lads from South Shields, Hendon, Peterlee etc. You may worry that at any second they are going to do something dreadful but, for good or bad, they are the ones who get the stands rocking.
Onto the ground and Layer Road was what you’d expect it to be. Colchester have done tremendously well to get into this division, never mind challenging for the play-offs. Their ground is simply a lower league ground. There is no surprise in that – 20 years ago we were playing in the lower league! And we’ve played in such grounds plenty of times in cups and friendlies – plus of course Colchester are not exactly the first club with a lower league ground to make it up into the second tier league, a league we do spend most of our time lolling around in. So exclamations of shock as to the state of the ground seemed to me to be a little fake. Having said that, the terrace was split in two and our half had two urinals for the men and one cubicle for the ladies! Now that is on the low side. I couldn’t help think that any lass with constipation was going to be very unpopular.
I thought Danny Simpson had been passed fit – but apparently not. So Whitehead dropped to right back. This was a worrying sign and now with hindsight I do wonder if it contributed to our defeat. Except for one game when he was poor (Wolves?) Deano in midfield has been a big part of our domination of teams over the last few months.
We had positioned ourselves behind Darren Ward’s right hand post so for once my “he didn’t seem to have much to do” comment carries some authority. He made one save down to his left – but to be honest you’d have been fairly cheessed off if he hadn’t got to it. However, we didn’t seem to be making much headway down the other end.
I don’t want to get into a “blame the ref” because it just seems like sour grapes but he did seem to find it a lot easier to give home decisions than decisions for the away team. At 45 minutes he got the fourth official to signal 3 minutes injury time. Nowt really much happened in the 3 minutes and I can’t think of anything that would mean he needed more time added on. However, as the 5 minute mark approached, Collins made a tackle over on the left and for some reason the ref gave a free kick. I really just don’t know what it was for. Inevitably one of their players got a free diving header to send the ball speedily past Ward.
Still only 1-0 down and 45 minutes to play. For most of the second half I thought we were the better team. Reasonably early on Yorkie got a glancing header in and so we had the platform to go on and win. Layer Road clearly is a difficult ground in which to play if you are used to larger stadia. I think the length of the pitch is about normal but to me it looked narrow (might just be an optical illusion). However, the real issue for visiting teams is that the stands crowd in onto the side of the pitch. I am no sports psychologist but I imagine this must really distort your sense of spatial awareness. It certainly meant we were playing nothing like the expansive game we have got used to.
Edwards, who has done so well on his return, seemed to have two men on him – but even so he never seemed to get down the wing. To the extent he got the ball he used it to cut across field – a movement that is not going to be as dangerous and which the Colchester midfield dealt with fairly easily. On the other side, Murphy was on the left wing initially – but he is no left-winger and he produced little of note. Wallace came on for him but to be honest he was poorer. In the centre Yorke played his usual calm, make himself available, pass to a man in a red and white shirt game – but I think he links up much better with Deano than with Leadbitter, who tried hard but didn’t get hold of the game in the way you want someone in that position to do. To be honest I thought Danny Collins was one of our most creative attacking threats – a weird state of affairs to say the least.
Up front we posed little threat –and to be honest that has been a season long issue. While it is great getting goals from all over the place, the fact that our “top two” strikers have well less than half the goals of Colchester’s top two is a worry. Connolly just never seemed to be in a goal scoring position. Stern John was out of the game for long periods (and missed one glorious chance) and was subbed. Murphy was no better when put up front than when he was on the left wing. Stokes looked the most lively when he came on – but he has close to zero intuitive understanding with the other players at present. This made him look “greedy” (i.e. dribbling instead of making the pass) but I think it was just that he didn’t see that a pass was on. Elliott wasn’t really on long enough to make an impression. The fact that we tried 5 strikers at different points of the game bears out the point I am making I think.
Inevitably we got caught on the counter attack – a man with space in the box and a low ball into the bottom corner. Should Ward have got it? Not from my view at the other end of the pitch – but I might have had a different opinion if he’d still been right in front of us.
We went a bit ragged as we pressed unconvincingly for an equaliser and conceded a penalty. This made our goal difference just a bit worse. With Brum so close on goal difference (although I think Derby won’t catch up on that basis) I’d prefer not to have done that.
There were a few quotes of “it is still in our hands” after the match. I think Keano should stick to his guns of not thinking about such things. The only thing that is of any importance in the world at the moment is that we beat Burnley on Friday. Now wouldn’t that be fun?
John aka Herts