Lambert must go to work on U's defence

COLCHESTER United's defensive frailties were once again exposed as Cheltenham came from two goals behind to seal all three points deep into stoppage time.

Stuart Watson

Cheltenham Town 4 Colchester United 3

COLCHESTER United's defensive frailties were once again exposed as Cheltenham came from two goals behind to seal all three points deep into stoppage time.

In-coming boss Paul Lambert will be grateful for a day to collect his thoughts before taking over first team duties on Monday after substitute Barry Hayles flicked home a header in the 95th minute just as it looked like the Essex side had ridden the storm.

Colchester were by the far the better side in the first half and duly took the lead after 21 minutes when Anthony Wordsworth tapped home the first competitive goal of his career following a sliced clearance from defender Michael Townsend.

Cheltenham levelled against the run of play after 36 minutes courtesy of Darrne Kenton's header, however, Kit Symon's side went into the break in front thanks to a further Wordsworth tap in following neat play from Platt and Yeates.

Most Read

Both of these two sides have leaked plenty of goals this season and defensive frailties were exposed at both ends in an action-packed start to the second half.

Colchester doubled their lead after 51 minutes when Johnnie Jackson shot home at the near post after his own corner wasn't cleared properly.

However, the Essex side then endured a nightmare five minutes as first Lloyd Owusu scrambled home after 53 minutes, before Stuart Fleetwood converted from the spot following a Paul Reid handball in the box.

It was all Cheltenham from then on but, just as it looked like visiting keeper Dean Gerken had rescued a point for his side with a string of good saves, Hayles was on hand to flick home a long ball into the box with just seconds on the clock.

Cheltenham fans had breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing the team sheet ahead of kick-off when it emerged that their former hitman Steven Gillespie was not only out of the visiting team, but also their squad completely.

Gillespie had previously scored 26 goals in 69 starts for the Robins before his club record £400,000 move to the U's in the summer, however, a reoccurrence of a hamstring injury during the previous day's training meant he missed out.

That meant that caretaker boss Kit Symons - in charge of his last game before newly-announced manager Paul Lambert takes full charge on Monday - stuck with the 4-5-1 formation which has served him so well in his previous two away victories at Gillingham and Tranmere.

For Cheltenham, Barry Hayles had to be content with a place on the bench following his return from suspension, Martin Allen's only change from last week's 3-3 draw at Brighton being Ashley Vincent's replacement for the suspended Josh Payne.

Colchester's first chance came in the opening minute, Irishman Mark Yeates almost catching keeper Scott Brown out with a curling effort from out on the left.

The U's promising start continued minutes later when Johnnie Jackson whipped in a free-kick cross from the left, however, skipper Dean Hammond couldn't quite get enough power on his header to trouble the keeper.

Cheltenham's first real chance came after seven minutes when Matt Heath fouled Lloyd Owusu 25-yards out. Scott Murray slipped as he took the resultant set piece but it almost paid dividends as the ball fizzed narrowly wide of the left-hand post.

Colchester keeper Dean Gerken was tested for the first time in the match after 13 minutes when tricky winger Ashley Vincent skipped away from Gary Borrowdale on the right before cutting in and trying his luck from outside box. Gerken was more than equal to the effort though and got down well as his near post.

At the other end, the energetic Yeates, who this week started on the left of midfield, continued to cause the Cheltenham defence problems.

And when David Perkins forced a mistake at back by charging down the defence, Yeates forced another good stop from Brown from close range.

Most of the play was coming down both flanks and it was from down the left that Cheltenham almost found an opener after 16 minutes. Striker Stuart Fleetwood got away from John White to present a two-on-one situation at the back, however, his ball back across the box just eluded an unmarked Vincent in the six yard box.

At the other end, Yeates' clever ball across edge of box found Jackson, but his low effort flew two yards wide of the right-hand post.

Colchester were gifted the lead in the 21st minute when John White's cross from the right was sliced horribly towards goal by defender Michael Townsend and, although keeper Brown made a terrific reaction save, 19-year-old youth team product Anthony Wordsworth was on hand to tap home his first professional goal.

Bouyed by the goal Colchester surged forward to win a corner minutes later. Yeates' delivery from the left came back off the toes of Wordsworth's and Jackson hammered well over the bar.

The visitors were beginning to look very comfortable in possession at this stage and after Borrowdale' attempted outside of the boot shot went well wide, Jackson couldn't quite get enough control on a looping header following a good Perkins cross from the left.

Colchester were in control, further efforts from Perkins and Yeates testing the keeper further, so it was somewhat against the run of play when Cheltenham found an equaliser after 36 minutes.

Alex Russell's right-hand corner was headed straight back to him by Wordsworth and he crossed back in first time with a well-controlled side-footed volley for defender Darren Kenton to head home from 12 yards.

Filled with confidence from the goal, Cheltenham poured forward from the restart and Colchester were lucky that a dangerous low ball across the box by Vincent evaded everyone.

Following that five minute spell, Colchester settled back into their early rhythm and, once again Yeates and Jackson tested the keeper with a long-range effort and header respectively.

The U's deservedly went into the break in front courtesy of Wordsworth's second goal of the game after 43 minutes.

Clive Platt made a rampaging run into the right channel before slipping a delightful reverse ball to Yeates who in turn, unselfishly, pulled the ball back for Wordsworth to once again be left with the easiest of finishes.

Once again though Colchester were almost left to pay for a lapse in concentration after going back in front as the hosts were allowed too much time to break through on the right. Luckily for them, former Ipswich Town player Drissa Diallo made a mess of his unmarked opportunity in the box.

Colchester almost doubled their advantage two minutes after the interval when, following Jackson's tackle on the halfway line, Perkins strode forward before firing a left-footed effort just wide of the left-hand post.

The two sides then traded blows. First Kenton contrived to miss from two yards after Vincent's cross from the right, while at the other end Yeates had an effort turned away for a corner.

The Robins failed to clear their lines from the resultant flag kick and the ball eventually back to fell to the original taker Jackson who cut inside and somehow squeezed in a shot at the near post.

Once again however Colchester fell asleep after a goal and Cheltenham threw the ball forward into the box and. After a brief scramble, Owusu turned the ball home from six yards.

It got worse for Colchester a minute later when the referee awarded the hosts a penalty after a long-range effort from Kenton popped up and hit a U's man on the arm.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter