Bitter pill for U's to swallow

WHAT a bitter pill to swallow.Following months of build-up to this eagerly-anticipated East Anglian grudge match, Colchester United simply served up their revenge scalp on a platter.

Stuart Watson

WHAT a bitter pill to swallow.

Following months of build-up to this eagerly-anticipated East Anglian grudge match, Colchester United simply served up their revenge scalp on a platter.

A series of individual defensive mistakes saw the U's gift Norwich four of their five goals to leave a full-to-the-brim Weston Homes Community Stadium stunned.

Home villain Paul Lambert celebrated passionately, Wes Hoolahan was afforded a penalty miss, while former Canaries player Ian Henderson was dismissed late on for a wild lunge on his debut.

The bad-blood which preceded this game was certainly matched on it as Premier League referee Mike Dean showed nine yellow cards and one red in a predictably feisty affair - but while indiscipline was displayed in equal measures by both sides, it was Norwich who were able to kept their heads in front of goal.

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Colchester dominated the opening exchanges, but a too-eager David Fox blazed over from a glorious position and Anthony Wordsworth had a low effort clawed out of the bottom corner by keeper Fraser Forster.

Then, completely against the run of play, Norwich converted their first chance of the match after 16 minutes.

Danny Batth - making his first appearance since November due to the fact that Paul Reid had undergone a secret groin operation early last week - gave away the ball cheaply at the back and within seconds the deadly Chris Martin had turned to fire in low from the edge of the area.

The extremely sodden surface not only made passing football nigh on impossible, but it was also conducive to uncontrollable slide tackles.

The middle part of the first half therefore degenerated into something of a war of attrition - one 18th minute melee seeing two players from each side go into the book - but it was, nonetheless, a battle the U's looked to be slowly winning as the interval approached.

However, after Phil Ifil stabbed a decent chance wide and Wordsworth hit the side-netting with a free-kick, Norwich again displayed their superior economy in front of goal by converting their second meaningful chance of the game.

Just moments before the half-time whistle, Grant Holt sent Martin racing clear on the counter-attack and he dealt a hammer blow with yet another fine finish.

If Colchester had been wasteful up front in the first half, they were even more sloppy at the back in the second.

The collapse started less than five minutes after the restart when Magnus Okuonghae made a complete hash of a routine deep free-kick pumped forward into the box to provide centre-back Gary Doherty with the simple task of smashing in his fifth goal of the season from close range.

U's boss Aidy Boothroyd responded by replacing Batth with Pat Baldwin, the unwanted defender having been handed a reprieve after he turned down a move to Bristol Rovers just hours before kick-off, but the change in personnel at the back only made things worse as the long-serving U's player endured a nightmare return to the side.

First, in the 81st minute, he inexplicably attempted a square pass across his own box only to see the ball stick in the mud and allow substitute Oli Johnson to nip in and score his first goal in City colours.

Then, just as the game was about to enter stoppage time, Baldwin completely misjudged the flight of a long ball to allow goal-machine Grant Holt to dribble around exposed keeper Ben Williams and complete the rout.

It could have been worse for the U's had Wes Hoolahan not seen his 58th minute spot-kick, awarded for Okuonghae's foul on Holt, smack against the crossbar. Even with that miss though, the U's have now worryingly conceded 12 goals in their last two games. This result - which sends Norwich nine points clear of Colchester - will have left only the most sadistic of the many first-time home fans wanting to come back for more.

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