Where do U's go from here?

Colchester United fans are still licking their wounds this week following Norwich City's five goal revenge show in Essex. STUART WATSON reflects on one of the most hurtful defeats in the club's history.

Stuart Watson

Colchester United fans are still licking their wounds this week following Norwich City's five goal revenge show in Essex. STUART WATSON reflects on one of the most hurtful defeats in the club's history.

AND so the soul-searching begins.

While Colchester fans will have reluctantly dismissed their side's 7-0 thrashing at the hands of Championship side Preston as a 'freak result', the wounds opened by Norwich on Saturday will leave much longer-lasting scars.

The feelings felt by loyal U's fans this week will have fluctuated between shock, anger and deep hurt and disappointment.

And as the dust continues to settle, a number of questions remain?

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- Why - has there been an 11 goal shift between the sides in less than six months?

- How - has a defence which looked watertight earlier in the season suddenly conceded 12 goals in two games?

- Where - has the resilience gone on which the U's have built their success?

- Who - is to blame?

- What - does this nightmare start to 2010 mean in the long term?

There are no easy answers to the above for U's boss Aidy Boothroyd, but below here are a few of the factors that will have been running through his mind.

MATCH FITNESS

Much is often made about the difference between fitness and match fitness - and Saturday's game at the Weston Homes Community Stadium may now be held as one of the best ever visual examples ever.

As any professional will tell you, the relationship between footballer and football is one that needs to be maintained on a day-to-day basis.

Unfortunately for the U's, the recent cold snap of weather meant that they have been confined to the gym for the last two weeks in what Aidy Boothroyd described as a 'mini pre-season'. In contrast, Norwich were able to go ahead with their home game against Exeter City on January 9 and record a morale-boosting 3-1 victory.

The first thing to go following the lack of match fitness is the first touch and you only have to look at the errors made by Danny Batth (seven weeks since last game), Magnus Okuonghae (two weeks since last game) and Pat Baldwin (three weeks since last game) to see evidence of that.

PRESSURE

So much hype surrounded this game that the players simply cannot have been unaffected by it.

Let's not forget that City started the game very shakily and could have easily been two down within the opening quarter of an hour, however, two first half goals against the run of play inevitably had a rather calming effect on the Norwich nerves.

Chairman and owner Robbie Cowling had inadvertently heaped the pressure on his players' shoulders in the build-up and - with the eyes of the football world, as well as a packed stadium, on them - the U's succumbed to the occasion.

JOHN-JOE O'TOOLE

It is perhaps no coincidence that the two games in which Colchester have conceded 12 goals have coincided with the two-match suspension of John-Joe O'Toole.

The 22-year-old box-to-box midfielder has been described as the U's 'brawler' by manager Aidy Boothroyd - and how they've missed his fighting spirit in recent weeks.

Signed from Watford for a reported fee of �275,000 at the start of the transfer window, O'Toole's permanent acquisition is now looking to be priceless.

PITCH

For all the talk about Colchester's 'direct' brand of football - evidence has shown that this is a side that is far more at home playing in decent conditions.

The U's - whose seven goals against Norwich came on a fine surface on a glorious summer's afternoon last August - have struggled in wet conditions during the winter months.

Colchester's defence were at six and sevens in the sodden home conditions against Exeter last November and that proved to be the case once again on Saturday.

NOT GOOD ENOUGH

The thought that Norwich are simply a far superior team to Colchester is the one that will worry U's fans most.

Many Canaries fans have always maintained that their 7-1 defeat on the opening day of the season was purely of their own creation - a wake-up call for an over-confident side.

Since then, 'big club' Norwich have put together a run of results that everyone expected of the newly-relegated side, while 'over-achieving' Colchester have continued to do just that.

Aidy Boothroyd has not lost just three of his 22 games in charge by chance though and it's unlikely that the U's have been punching way above their weight for that entire time.

HE who laughs last, laughs longest.

Paul Lambert's unrestrained celebrations may have been hard to take for Colchester fans on Saturday, but it was the post-match smirk that followed which will be hardest to stomach.

In one curl of the lip, the Scotsman perfectly summed up the patronising stance held by many Norwich fans. Back in your place little Colchester.

So often in football a successful history can breed a misguided present-day arrogance - and I've witnessed enough of that from the Norwich camp in the last few weeks.

“Can't wait to claim sweet revenge over 'Col Who' at the weekend,” said one Canaries fan on twitter last week, no doubt still wearing his 1993/94 Jeremy Goss shirt.

And it wasn't just the club's supporters who were at it. A gaggle of Norwich-based journalists huddled together in the press room found it highly amusing that the game had been billed as 'Derby Day' on the front of the Colchester programme. “I wasn't aware we were playing Ipswich today,” chortled one.

If Colchester chairman and owner Robbie Cowling has been met with such a dismissive pat on the head from his Canaries counterparts in the last three months then it becomes very easy to understand why he has felt the need to express his emotions so publically.

U's fans shouldn't give up on any hopes of justice just yet though. There are still 22 league games to play this season and the ruling of a Football Disciplinary Committee investigating Lambert's defection could yet have a big impact on the fortunes of both Norwich and Colchester.

Have heart U's fans. They do say that revenge is a dish best served cold.

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