U's defence will be focus for new boss

PAUL Lambert may have been a top-class midfielder in his playing days but, having watched his new side concede four scrappy goals from the stands at Cheltenham, he knows it is the U's defence which needs the most urgent attention.

Stuart Watson

PAUL Lambert may have been a top-class midfielder in his playing days but, having watched his new side concede four scrappy goals from the stands at Cheltenham, he knows it is the U's defence which needs the most urgent attention.

“I know exactly what is going on at this club and what needs rectifying,” said Lambert, after substitute Barry Hayles headed home five minutes into stoppage time to seal an amazing fightback for the hosts.

He added: “I saw some really good things out there and I just think that maybe the lads need a new manager to pull them through.”

This match should have been all over at half time such had been Colchester's first-half domination.

However, their inability to finish more than two of their numerous openings, plus a goal against the run of play, meant the Essex side were just a goal in front come the interval.

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The game still looked to be dead and buried when Johnnie Jackson finally gave the visitors a two-goal cushion soon after the restart, however, Colchester's inability to defend Cheltenham's direct brand of football saw them ultimately walk away with nothing.

Before kick-off Colchester's travelling support were disappointed to learn that record summer signing Steven Gillespie was not in the squad to face his former club due to the reoccurrence of a hamstring injury during Friday's training session.

And you get the feeling that had the proven hitman been on the pitch in the first half then Colchester may have already been out of sight by the break.

The visitors 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 Scott Brown made a terrific reaction save, 19-year-old youth team product Anthony Wordsworth was on hand to tap home his first professional goal.

Jackson, Yeates and Gary Borrowdale all passed up decent opportunities to extend the lead before Cheltenham drew level against the run of play 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.

It was then that Colchester's tendency to switch off straight after a goal first emerged when Cheltenham poured forward straight from the restart only to see Ashley Vincent's dangerous low ball across the box evade everyone.

Following that shaky 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 lead was eventually regained after 43 minutes thanks to Wordsworth's second goal of the game.

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 who was again left with the easiest of finishes on the line.

The shape of the match seemed to have been decided soon after the restart when, at one end, Cheltenham's Kenton contrived to miss from two yards after Vincent's cross from the right.

Colchester immediately went on the attack themselves and, after David Perkins had done well to win a corner with a strong run and shot, Jackson collected a hashed clearance from his own flag kick before cutting in and squeezing a shot inside the near post.

A spell of the type of possession they had enjoyed until that point would surely have killed off any hopes of a Cheltenham comeback, but instead the match was thrown wide open when, just two minutes after Jackson's strike, striker Lloyd Owusu scrambled the ball home from six yards following another long ball into the box.

It got a whole lot worse for the shell-shocked visitors just three minutes after that when the referee awarded a penalty, possibly for a hand-ball against defender Paul Reid, after a long-range effort from Kenton popped up and hit a defender on the arm.

Gary Borrowdale was booked for his protests before Fleetwood stepped up to send Dean Gerken the wrong way from the spot.

Whaddon Road was bouncing by this stage and Colchester were grateful for a stoppage in play when Vincent, who had posed the biggest threat throughout, was forced off with an injury.

Veteran striker Barry Hayles replaced him on the right and, as it turned out, the enforced substitution proved to be crucial.

Following the three goals in five minutes, the match calmed down a notch before Cheltenham stepped up a gear for the final 15 minutes.

Colchester had keeper Gerken to thank for still being level by the time the board for five minutes of stoppage time was shown, the visiting No. 1 making a classy full-stretch save to keep out Scott Murray's close-range header, as well as a brave stop at the feet of Fleetwood in the final 10 minutes.

But just as it looked as though Colchester had seen out the danger of a late flurry of corner kicks, Alan Wright pumped one last ball forward from a deep free-kick, Owusu flicked it on and Hayles managed to out-muscle Matt Heath before flicking home a header.

It was virtually the last touch of the game and, with Halloween less than three weeks away, Lambert will have a lot of work to do if such a nightmarish display of defending is to be avoided in future.

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