U's fail Spanish inquisition

HERE'S a good question for football quizzes in years to come - who was the first player to score a goal at Colchester United's new Weston Homes Community Stadium?

Carl Marston

Colchester United 1 Athletic Bilbao 2

HERE'S a good question for football quizzes in years to come - who was the first player to score a goal at Colchester United's new Weston Homes Community Stadium?

It might take some remembering, especially it you weren't at last night's historic curtain raiser at the U's spanking new home.

Athletic Bilbao striker Aritz Aduriz can boast this claim to fame, after he swept the Spanish giants into a 16th minute lead.

By contrast, his team-mate, defender Ander Murillo, has the unwanted tag of being the first player to be sent off at this new venue, for violent conduct against Kem Izzet in the second period.

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But there is actually an even better question for quiz exponents to ponder - who was the last Colchester player to score at Layer Road, and the first to net at the Community Stadium? Scott Vernon is the answer to both.

Vernon was the sole U's goalscorer in the 5-1 home defeat to Coventry City in their penultimate game at Layer Road. The final game ended in a 1-0 reverse to Stoke City.

And so there was a neat symmetry about Vernon's 33rd minute equaliser last night. The ex-Blackpool striker converted a penalty after Mark Yeates' goalbound shot had been handled in the penalty area.

The result was not important, but Geraint Williams' men will be unhappy to concede a penalty with just six minutes remaining. James Hammond was penalised for a foul and David Lopez side-footed home the spot kick to clinch victory for the La Liga giants.

However, the Essex club as a whole can feel satisfied with last night's eagerly awaited event. The kick-off was delayed for 15 minutes, due to congestion outside, but otherwise there were very few hitches.

It was the occasion, rather than the match itself, that was all-important. The U's can now look forward to the new season at their new home in League One.

The visitors seemed to settle quicker into their strange new surroundings than their hosts, and they should have taken the lead after just eight minutes. Joseba Del Olmo was just a whisker away from steering home Aduriz's cross.

But eight minutes later and Bilbao did take the lead, thanks to a smart finish from Aduriz. The San Sebastian-born striker ghosted in at the far post to control Ander Iturraspe's low cross and then beat Dean Gerken from a tight angle.

The U's had not created a clear-cut scoring chance during the first half-hour, but they were level in the 33rd minute, courtesy of Vernon's precise penalty.

Keeper Inaki Lafuente could only flap at Steven Gillespie's teasing cross, with the rebound rolling into the path of Mark Yeates. The Irishman did not hesitate to shoot first-time, and his goalbound effort was handled by centre-half Ustaritz.

Referee Stuart Attwell, who will become the youngest referee in the Premiership for the coming season, pointed to the spot and booked Ustaritz for the deliberate handball.

Vernon made no mistake with his penalty, sending keeper Lafuente the wrong way to tuck the ball into the right-hand corner of the net.

Bilbao came close to regaining the lead in the last minute of the first half, but Gerken was more than a match for Del Olmo's fierce shot down at his near post.

U's boss Williams rang the changes at half-time, with five substitutes appearing for the start of the second period - keeper Mark Cousins, defenders Paul Reid and John White, and wide-midfielders Anthony Wordsworth and Medy Elito.

Despite this disruption, United enjoyed the better of the early stages of the second-half and Gillespie was unlucky not to connect cleanly with a shot on the hour mark. The ball became stuck under his feet and his final effort was easily caught by Lafuente.

Bilbao were reduced to 10 men in the 61st minute. Murillo was flashed the red card for raising both his hands to the throat of Izzet, in retaliation to the U's midfielder's foul. Izzet was booked for the original offence.

But the 10 men from Spain had the last laugh by scoring an 84th minute winner, via Lopez's penalty.

Squads

COLCHESTER UNITED: Gerken (sub Cousins, 46), Ifil, Heath (sub J Hammond, 78), Coyne (sub Reid, 46), Lockwood (sub White, 46), Yeates (sub Elito, 46), Izzet (sub D Hammond, 63) Jackson (sub Wordsworth, 46), Perkins, Vernon (sub Waisu, 63), Gillespie (sub Platt, 64).

ATHLETIC BILBAO (starting line-up): Lafuente, Murillo, Ustaritz, Amorebieta, Koikili, Del Olmo, Iturraspe, Gurpegui, Gabilondo, Lopez, Aduriz.

Referee: Mr S Attwell

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