Date: 13th August 2007 at 11:12am
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U’s match Blades in outstanding curtain-raiser

Sheffield United (0) 2 Colchester United (0) 2

Sheffield Goals:

Beattie, 68
Tonge, 82

Colchester Goals:

McLeod, 68
Platt, 89

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Bramall Lane Attendance: 26,202

Colchester United’s baptism of fire for their second Coca-Cola Championship season against title favourites Sheffield United on Saturday saw the Essex outfit twice come from behind to secure a 2-2 draw at Bramall Lane.

As the mind wondered back to last season’s opening league match against the then highly-fancied Birmingham City, where Colchester were beaten 2-1, the U’s proved themselves to have progressed as a whole unit inside the last 356 days.

Despite the mass exodus of so many players that made their debut season in the second tier of English football so memorable last term, Colchester exhibited both the willingness, and an ability, to compete once more.

Scrub the names of the departed Chris Iwelumo, Jamie Cureton or Richard Garcia, three among many who helped the club defy expectation and finish 10th in their first campaign in the Championship. In fact, only five men selected in last year’s squad against Birmingham last August were involved again.

Think Teddy Shreingham, Clive Platt and Mark Yeates instead. That triumvirate of replacements, specifically, were impressive, auguring well with defensive solidly provided by George Elokobi and Arsenal loanee Matt Connolly; for 65 minutes, while the score remained blank, Colchester more than matched their opponents.

The scoreline, and statistics, tell as much – and more. The U’s, having put their busiest summer of all time behind them, fielded a line-up of stark financial contest to Sheffield’s. Compare their £6 million forward paring of James Beattie and Billy Sharp with the £300,000 debuting forward Platt, Colchester’s most expensive offering.

Yet, the supposedly ‘little’ U’s came away with a big point. Alongside Platt, also appearing competitively for the first time, was Teddy Sheringham, who, at 41, managed to play right until full-time.

His performance received great praise from manager Geriant Williams; the ex-England international, after only 20 minutes of pre-season action due to a calf problem, was even involved in the build up to Colchester’s eventual last-gasp equaliser.

It was a current international, though, in Beattie, who popped up from close range to open the game’s scoring and chalk up his first goal in Sheffield colours.

The previously proven Premiership striker, subject of a £4 million move from Everton last week, was on the end of a Derek Geary ball into the box to score his first goal since October and give his side the lead. Caught cold, Colchester were undone by a counter attack where Sheffield made use of an extra man.

That slender lead lasted barley seconds thought, when, from the kick-off, Platt, Sheringham and then winger Yeates, all combined.

In a flash, Yeates had the presence of mind not to shoot with the ball in the area, having drawn Sheffield’s goalkeeper, Paddy Kenny, off his line. The youngster instead found the largely electric Kevin McLeod, who rolled the ball home, levelling the game back to square one.

Two goals in such quick succession saw the match explode. During the first half, the best efforts had come through three consecutive Colchester corner kicks and one tame effort from Sharpe outside the area. At one each, things were now wide open.

This was certainly not a dull affair until the goals went in, either. Midfielder Johnnie Jackson, five minutes after the break, had already nearly broken the deadlock with Colchester’s best chance up to that point. Jackson, who hit a blisteringly curled free-kick effort that, albeit briefly, stung Kenny’s palms.

U’s fans also had to contend in this game with the appearance, in Sheffield’s midfield, Lee Hendrie. The former Aston Villa man infamously motioned the movement of a sponge to Colchester’s Kem Izzet last season while at Stoke, reportedly asking him if he’d be interested in washing a Ferrari.

Such previous was an irrelevance because Hendrie spend out of the game when Michael Tonge replaced from the bench, following a poor contribution and with the scores tied. Tonge made his mark, putting the home side ahead with four minutes remaining after a good finish; one that Colchester’s Williams later confessed could have been cleared by their defence.

The goal came when a Sheffield corner produced a shot that was only half cleared by Clive Platt. From a crowd of players, Tonge drilled the ball past Gerken, who would have been unhappy to concede, given that skipper Karl Duguid had already cleared the ball off the line just prior to it landing in the net.

Both Duguid, who was making his 400th Colchester appearance, and Platt quickly atoned for any wrongdoing when a quickly constructed move gave the former a chance to overlap and cross from his full-back position. A pinpoint-cross landed on Platt’s head. His headed finish sent the ball flying home past a surprised Kelly in the opposite direction and left the keeper with no chance to stop it.

On today’s evidence, then, Colchester have not regressed during a summer of change at the club, as many predicted – they ought to pick up more than the poor total of just 20 away points amassed last season.

In a new era, culminating next June when the Cuckoo Farm Stadium opens for business as a replacement for Layer Road, the team have kept hold of a trademark tendency to punch above their weight. They’ve kept self-believe, great character and determination.

“It’s a good point away from home. Maybe we could have come away with a bit more,” said Williams, reflecting on BBC Radio Essex, although most fans were thrilled the draw, which is more than came be said for booing a Baldes contingent.

Forget the club’s summer of upheaval – in upsetting the odds from day one, Colchester United have ensured that normal service has resumed.


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