Lambert's honeymoon period is over

MANAGER Paul Lambert's honeymoon period is certainly over after his Colchester United side slithered to back-to-back home defeats, the latest at the hands of efficient Walsall.

Carl Marston

MANAGER Paul Lambert's honeymoon period is certainly over after his Colchester United side slithered to back-to-back home defeats, the latest at the hands of efficient Walsall.

Just seven days after bowing out of the FA Cup to visiting Leyton Orient, the U's again lacked both creativity and a killer touch. This time defeat has left them hovering just one place above the relegation zone.

Lambert's appointment a month ago breathed fire and self-belief into a struggling team. The result was just one defeat in five games, and 12 goals to boot.

But the shine has been taken off by two successive home defeats, and a failure to score in both fixtures. It is now that the Scot must work his magic.

The U's bossed possession and registered more goal attempts, but it was all a little too predictable. Walsall will in fact be surprised at how easily they managed to chalk up their third away win of the campaign.

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Goals in either half by Dwayne Mattis and Michael Ricketts nudged the Saddlers into the top 10, which is a position that the U's can only dream about at the moment.

Any hopes of a quick-fire return to the Championship appear very far-fetched. In fact, a second successive relegation looks more likely than a prolonged bid for promotion, not least because the U's are only above the bottom four because of a superior goal difference.

They didn't play as a unit on Saturday, and that must be in part due to a spate of untried partnerships all over the pitch.

John White and Pat Baldwin played together in the heart of defence for the first time, while 18-year-old left-back Lee Hills made his U's debut and right-back Phil Ifil played his first league game for two months. Hardly a familiar back four!

An injury to Kem Izzet in training disrupted the midfield, while Aston Villa loanee Sam Williams and target man Clive Platt have only played together twice. This attacking partnership is yet to yield a goal and will take time to flourish.

Similarly, the combinations down either flank were new - Crystal Palace loanee Hills operated with an out-of-sorts Johnnie Jackson down the left, and Ifil and Mark Yeates had to try and gel down the right. Added to this, keeper Mark Cousins started his first ever league game.

The net result was a disjointed performance. It wasn't as demoralising as the 3-0 home defeat at the hands of MK Dons, which prompted the departure of previous boss Geraint Williams, but it wasn't particularly inspiring for a crowd that numbered just 4,071 - the smallest attendance to date at the Community Stadium.

The U's began brightly, but from the moment that midfielder Mattis stretched out a leg to divert home Troy Denney's excellent cross on 16 minutes, they were fighting a losing battle.

Platt was the pick of the U's team in the first-half. He peppered the target with a couple of headers, and then set up Dean Hammond, only for the skipper to mis-hit his shot from a good position.

Clayton Ince was in commanding form in the Walsall goal. True, he did not have to pull off any dramatic saves, but he bossed his penalty area and kept out Yeates' fierce free-kick with a two-handed punch before the half-hour mark.

There were other chances before the break - Platt drilled a shot into the side-netting from an acute angle, after Ince had gone walkabout, and Jackson failed to beat the Saddlers keeper from just 10 yards out in first-half stoppage time.

However, the opportunities dried up in the second period, and Ricketts wrapped up the points by heading home Chris Palmer's corner in the 62nd minute. Palmer's cross floated over Cousins, allowing ex-Bolton striker Ricketts to notch his eighth goal of the campaign.

The jinx of the Community Stadium may have been broken by the U's ruthless 5-0 demolition of Carlisle United three weeks earlier, but that remains the only win at the new ground from nine league and cup starts.

The new era, in a new stadium and in a new league, is not going to plan.


COLCHESTER UNITED: Cousins 6, Ifil 6 (sub Wasiu, 66), Baldwin 7, White 6, Hills 6, Yeates 7, HAMMOND 7, Perkins 6, Jackson 6 (sub Wordsworth, 66), Platt 7, Williams 6. Unused subs: Heath, Vernon, Gerken.

WALSALL: Ince 8, Weston 7 (sub Boertien, 90+3) Roberts 7, Gerrard 7, Palmer 7, Mattis 7, Hughes 7 (sub Reich, 79) Taundry 7, DENNEY 8 (sub Zaaboub, 69), Nicholls 7, Ricketts 7. Unused subs: Bradley, Gilmartin.

Referee: Phil Crossley (Kent)

Attendance: 4,071