U's fail to take their chances

COLCHESTER United's dreams of reaching Wembley in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy were shattered at Luton Town last night.

Carl Marston

COLCHESTER United's dreams of reaching Wembley in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy were shattered at Luton Town last night.

The U's squandered countless opportunities to cancel out Claude Gnakpa's 29th-minute close-range effort, and so missed the chance to reach a two-legged southern area final with the prize of a Wembley trip to come.

It was a special evening for Luton boss Mick Harford against the club where he was an assistant manager during Geraint Williams' reign.

And another Colchester old boy, Wayne Andrews, had a big hand in the winner, because it was his 18-yard shot that was deflected home by Gnakpa.

It was Frenchman Gnakpa's second goal of the season, and it proved sufficient to see off the U's.

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Paul Lambert's men certainly had no shortage of chances to fashion an equaliser. They hit the woodwork in both halves and substitute Steve Gillespie also missed a sitter late on with his effort grazing a post.

Scott Vernon smashed a half-volley against the underside of the bar in the 40th minute, and Johnnie Jackson rattled the inside of a post with a low drive early in the second half.

Gillespie's failure to bury a close-range shot with just keeper Conrad Logan to beat on 80 minutes spelt the end of the road for the U's, even though Anthony Wordsworth also peppered the target twice in injury-time.

Following away wins at Millwall, Gillingham and Bournemouth in this competition, it was certainly a disappointing way to bow out.

U's boss Lambert rang the changes, selecting just three of the players who started at Leeds on Saturday - Alan Maybury, Dean Hammond and Kem Izzet. The others were either rested or named among the substitutes.

Luton included ex-Colchester front-runner Wayne Andrews, who was starting his second game for the Hatters since his switch from Coventry. But former U's midfielder Kevin Watson was sidelined with a long-term calf injury.

It was a very short night for one of those enjoying a recall to the U's side. Centre-half Matt Heath, fighting fit after a hamstring injury, was forced to leave the pitch with blood pouring from a head wound after just three minutes.

Heath had been felled by a hefty challenge from Claude Gnakpa, and the cut was so deep that the ex-Leeds man could not return. While he was being stitched up, on came substitute Chris Coyne.

It was Coyne's first appearance at Kenilworth Road for a competitive match since his move from Luton to the U's for £350,000 last January. And the Aussie defender was given a warm ovation by the home fans.

Otherwise, it was a quiet opening. Anthony Wordsworth, operating down the left flank, picked up his sixth booking of the season for a late challenge on Ed Asafu-Adjaye on 14 minutes.

A minute later and the U's mounted their first threatening attack. Maybury floated over a cross for Scott Vernon to head goalwards, only for keeper Conrad Logan to palm the ball to safety.

Andrews nearly bagged a goal against his old club in the 24th minute. The 30-year-old let fly from the edge of the box with a rasping shot that Dean Gerken did well to parry.

It was a warning that United did not heed, because the Hatters took the lead just five minutes later with Andrews again involved.

Andrews crashed in a first-time shot, from a cross from Rossi Jarvis, and the ball was expertly deflected home by Gnakpa, who was lurking just outside the six-yard box.

It had been a poor first-half showing from the visitors, but they could so easily have been level on 40 minutes.

Johnnie Jackson's corner was met on the half-volley by Vernon, who was unlucky to see his terrific thunderbolt strike the underside of the bar and rebound to safety.

The U's were denied by the woodwork a second time in the 50th minute. Jackson created space for himself and looked certain to score, only for his low drive to cannon off the inside of a post and roll agonisingly wide.

At least Lambert's men looked more menacing during the early stages of the second half. Wordsworth spurned a good chance to equalise when rising unmarked to meet Jackson's free kick. But his header flashed wide.

There was no surprise to see leading scorer Mark Yeates appear off the bench on 56 minutes. He came on for Sunday-Akanni Wasiu, who had been off the pace for most of the evening.

And Yeates was quickly in the action. The Irishman had a shot blocked at the near post, and the follow-up from Pat Baldwin was also charged down by a defender. Baldwin believed that there was a suspicion of handball, but referee Kevin Friend merely waved play on.

Lambert threw on his trump card in the 75th minute, with club record signing Gillespie coming on as a substitute after seven weeks on the sidelines with a strained hamstring.

Yet Gillespie was guilty of missing a real sitter within five minutes of his introduction. The ex-Cheltenham striker had just Logan to beat, but he dragged his eight-yard shot narrowly missed the target, the ball touching a post before going wide.

Wordsworth went close with two efforts in injury-time. Firstly he headed over from Yeates' corner, and then he forced a reflex save from Logan right at the death.

But this was not to be Colchester's night.

Squads

LUTON TOWN: Logan 7, Asafu-Adjaye 7, Roper 8, Spillane 7, Howells 7, Hall 6, Keane 6 (sub Beavan, 26), Jarvis 7, Gnakpa 7, ANDREWS 8 (sub McVeigh, 87) and Talbot 7 (sub Martin, 75). Unused subs: Davis and Brill.

COLCHESTER UNITED: Gerken 7, Maybury 6, BALDWIN 7, Heath - (sub Coyne, 6, 7), White 7, Wordsworth 6, Hammond 6 (sub Gillespie, 75), Izzet 7, Jackson 7, Wasiu 5 (sub Yeates, 56) and Vernon 6. Unused subs: Perkins and Walker.

Referee: Mr K Friend (Leicestershire).

Attendance: 2,638.

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