Colchester United (1) 2 Barnsley (1) 2
Saturday, 18 August 2007 Attendance: 4,450
Matt Calmus, Layer Road
Gerken S/0, 26
Howard, 26 (Pen), 85 (Pen)
Reid S/0, 51
Goals for two Colchester United new boys, defender Matthew Connolly and ex-England international Teddy Sheringham, were not enough to see off Barnsley after a series of what Geriant Williams called “dubious” refereeing decisions saw the game end in a draw.
Tykes’ midfielder, Brain Howard, the club’s 2006/7 player of the year, netted two controversial penalty kicks as his side visited Layer Road in August for the third consecutive season where it finished 10 men on each side.
With the opening exchanges dictated by Colchester, the U’s looked a good value bet to go in front because new attacking pair Kevin Lisbie and Sheringham combined well to unsettle the opposing defence early on. Both winger Kevin McLeod and George Elokobi also impressed as a new-look United team began to lace together a string of entertaining passing movements.
Barnsley, by comparison, started shakily and looked very much the same team who were beaten by three clear gaols in front of their expectant fans against Coventry City last weekend. Despite several line-up changes, Simon Davey’s side lacked invention; they could not cope with Colchester’s attack-minded inclination and only enjoyed small pockets of possession.
The best chance the visitors had was a Brain Howard free-kick which tamely struck Colchester’s defensive wall.
The early momentum of the U’s brightest play was lost, however, when keeper Gerken looked to intercept a dangerous-looking ball intended for Kayade Odejayi but was given his marching orders by referee Mr. Hall.
In a rare misjudgement of timing by Colchester’s youngster and most improved player in recent times, Gerken failed, by perhaps a fraction of a second, to claim the ball.
Odejayi beat him to it and, although there appeared to be no sign of malicious intent from Gerken, the net-minder had committed himself without actually blocking the attempt, which might still have rolled over the line. Having made contact with the forward, and been the last man when the ball was initially played, Gerken was, perhaps fairly upon the evidence of a replay, sent to the stands.
With Gerken, who was recently handed the number one squad shirt, set for an extended spell on the sidelines, Mark Cousins took up occupancy in gaol after manager Williams boldly elected to introduce him, at Kevin Lisbie’s expense.
Facing the daunting task of preventing penalty expert Howard from hitting the string with his first action of the game, Cousins did well to read the player’s run and opted for the correct direction. His attempt to prevent the 12-yarder was unsuccessful though, because Cousins found Howard’s power-drive that stuck the top right corner impossible to connect with, such was the strength behind it.
The U’s, endowed with a great fighting-sprit and a bit of finesse, used the sending-off to rally for an equaliser; heads did not drop. Having taken advantage of Sheringham’s accomplished ability to hold possession whist waiting for the support of the speedy McLeod, and Mark Yeates, United leavened right before half time.
Sheringham bagged his first goal in Colchester colours with a wonderfully accurate assist from a flying Elukobi. The full-back is a fans favourite it Essex, and his assist for Teddy come off the back of a penetrating run into the Barnsley quarter of the half. It was a cross drilled low and, with Sheringham’s excellent movement proving he has still got a great footballing brain, the 41-year-old toe-poked the ball beyond Heinz Muller at the near post for career goal number 274.
Colchester continued to look like the team with an extra man, despite that numerical disadvantage, in the second half. Matthew Connelly, the U’s man-of-the-man against Sheffield United proved that Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is right: he is too good to be a Gunners reserve.
The imposing centre-back showed his treat from set-pieces to score from Johnnie Jackson’s perfectly weighted corner. Having met the ball on the six-yard line, Connelly got enough purchase on the outswinging delivery to convert it, this time at the far post.
With the U’s in front, there looked little to worry them, Barnsley bar one header from 12 yards out missed by defender Derek Souza after Grant McCann’s good delivery.
Colchester looked on course for three points, especially when Barnsley had a man sent off four minutes after Connelly had given them the lead. Barnsley skipper Paul Reid, already partly answerable for Colchester’s freedom to attack for their equaliser, was dismissed after using an elbow against Sheringham as the attacks continued to mount.
The away side got a second blessing, and a third award penalty inside a week, however, to guarantee a share of the spoils. Unlike the earlier decision, virtually a no-brainer for the ref once he had decided to send Gerken off, this second spot-kick was perhaps harsh on offender Jackson. The midfielder, responsible for a penalty miss of his own in the Carling Cup last Tuesday, conceded after the hit him on the arm in the area.
Earlier scorer Howard converted again, this time opting to slot the ball in via the left side of the goal, to this time send Cousins the wrong way. How did U’s boss Williams react to all this? “There were some dubious decisions. But that’s football.”
Treat that response as a blasé attitude if you like but the encounter allowed Colchester to record a second successive 2-2 draw in the league while also showing renewed metal. Having lost on all seven occasions last term when conceding twice, the U’s have already avoided that fate twice in the opening weeks of the new campaign.
Besides, on a weekend when the decision-making skills of referees have been scrutinised in so many games, including Mike Riley’s display in the Liverpool against Chelsea tie, Williams appears, in a typically calm fashion, to have been aptly spot on.
Col Utd V Barnsley – Match Report
Colchester United (1) 2 Barnsley (1) 2