Sorry start for U's

WAS it bad for you? It certainly was for me.Personally, this was the most deflating first day of a new season that I have witnessed over the last 17 years of reporting on Colchester United.

Carl Marston

WAS it bad for you? It certainly was for me.

Personally, this was the most deflating first day of a new season that I have witnessed over the last 17 years of reporting on Colchester United. And you can go further back than that.

I recall a depressing 3-1 home defeat to Torquay, at the beginning of George Burley's short reign as U's boss on the opening day of the 1994-95 campaign. But Burley had a new-look team that day, including untried full-backs Gary Culling and Jean Dalli, and United had not been playing in a higher division the previous year.

Instead, if you ignore the disappointing 2-0 defeat at Yeovil, on the opening day of the 1990-91 campaign in the Conference, the club's first fixture since relegation out of the League, then you have to harp back 40 years to a 4-0 reverse at Brentford at the start of the 1968-69 campaign for a more depressing curtain-raiser.

There is a crumb of comfort. Dick Graham's side of 40 years ago went on to finish an encouraging sixth in the old Fourth Division.

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But it wasn't just the result that hurt at Victoria Park on Saturday, it was the overall performance. It was an opening day to forget for manager Geraint Williams, as well as his beleaguered players and the suffering supporters who endured an ultimately fruitless round trip of more than 500 miles.

Hosts Hartlepool were in the driving seat from the first whistle. At one stage they led by four goals, and the margin could have been a lot wider before Steve Gillespie netted a late brace. The 4-2 score-line did not actually do justice to Danny Wilson's men.

Keeper Dean Gerken made three point-blank saves, but was powerless to prevent classy striker James Brown from scoring a quickfire double in the first half, and then midfielders Willie Boland and Ritchie Jones from rifling home stupendous long-range strikes after the break.

The U's were never in the hunt. They failed to get to grips with a strong wind in their faces in the first-half, but their policy of pumping long, high balls from the back was puzzling. As a result, Pools had bags of possession and showed terrific movement on and off the ball.

Of course any side that concedes two goals in a minute, as the U's did when Brown scored in the 13th and 14th minutes, would struggle to recover. But the most worrying aspect was that the visitors never looked like mounting a comeback.

Paul Reid and Matt Lockwood would not have enjoyed their debuts in an over-stretched back four, and even though fellow debutant Gillespie swept home a 77th minute penalty and an injury-time header, he too was in a subdued mood at the final whistle.

It was an awful day all-round.

The warning bells were sounding after just 80 seconds. Gary Liddell over-lapped the U's defence to latch onto Brown's pass and force a fine reflex save from Gerken.

And that set the tone. Brown blasted home the opener with a stunning shot from 15 yards out, and then quickly doubled his tally after the U's were caught napping by a quickly-taken free-kick from ex-U's loanee Jones. Brown finished calmly past an exposed Gerken.

With the exception of the occasional glimpse of skill from winger Mark Yeates, and some committed challenges from Johnnie Jackson, the first-half was a damp squid for United. And so it continued.

Boland was given the time and the space to rifle home a long-range third in the 65th minute, and Jones followed suit by drilling in a shot off the underside of the bar on 76 minutes.

The U's hardly deserved a consolation goal, let alone two. But Gillespie tucked home a penalty, following handball by Boland, and then climbed high to head home Yeates' injury-time cross.

On another day, you would hope that two late goals would be enough to take the points, not just save a few blushes.

Saturday was a humbling experience.


HARTLEPOOL: Lee-Barrett 7, Sweeney 7, Nelson 7, Collins 8, Humphreys 7, Jones 8, Boland 8, Liddle 7, Monkhouse 7 (sub Robson, 85), BROWN 9 (sub Foley, 82), Porter 7 (sub Barker, 89). Unused subs: McCunnie, Power.

COLCHESTER: Gerken 7, White 5, Coyne 5, Reid 5, Lockwood 6, Yeates 5, Hammond 5 (sub Izzet, 71), Jackson 6, Wordsworth 5 (sub Wasiu, 62), GILLESPIE 7, Vernon 6 (sub Platt, 71). Unused subs: Heath, Cousins.

Referee: Mr A Taylor (Manchester) 7

Attendance: 3,831