Sunday, 30 March 2008

Call Yourself Fans?

Credit where it's due. The team put up a brave fight today against West Brom. Twice in the lead, but more poor defending meant we lost 3-4 in what it seems was a bit of thriller for the neutrals. But who cares about the neutrals when some of our own fans are clearly not satisfied with anything in life at the moment. I call them fans but in reality they just haven't a clue about the game. Are these the same people who proclaimed George Williams as a saint or a god last season? The very same fans who taunted virtually every visiting band in Terraces 1 and 2 for the best part of a year? Now they seem to think it's OK to call for George's head to be removed from the rest of his body. What sort of idiots are they that can't realise that on shoestring budget, the lowest ground capacity, a 50% change in the first team squad, a miserable run of injuries and half the squad playing like lemmings we just aren't going to compete at this level.

The Colchester United faithful will of course realise that last season, with much the same background resources and the ability to keep a settled team together the results were significantly different. But hang on a minute, the manager was the same George Williams wasn't it? That's right, the guy who was thrown in at the deep end because Parky thought he'd leave it to the last minute to jump ship and head for Hull. (Didn't HE do well?) But who else was part of the management structure that guided the lads upwards from League One and through to a 5th round FA Cup tie against Chelsea. Oh yes, the assistant manager, George (Geraint) Williams. The same man who has been with the club since 1998 as a player, assistant and full manager? The 'Coca Cola Championship Manager of the Month' for September 2006.

I think his record as a player, sportsman, coach, manager and human being speaks for itself. So how do some people reward this loyalty, dedication and hard-working? They want him sacked of course. Why oh why do they bother sending emails and texts to BBC Essex complaining about the manager when it's the players that are at fault? We have a bunch of players that aren't of the right quality to compete at this level. Can't these so-called fans realise this? What right does a squad of average ability have to play Championship games every week? These guys have been spoilt and they need to knuckle down and start to earn their pay once again.

For now we need to focus on the positives. We know the defence isn't up to scratch - look at the scoreline. Yet we managed to score more goals in today's match than in any other game since 20th October last year. That must count for something.

We know we are going down, so let's just accept the fact and hope for a squad that wants to play for Colchester United in League One and who will be dead keen to support their manager in getting promotion back up to the Championship. We've got a new stadium to look forward to. I've seen stuff written that suggests a lot of folk aren't going to renew their season tickets. Their loss! Bye!

Bring on the Tractor Boys for our next Cup Final. How many years since Ipswich last got a point at Layer Road?

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Where Are They Now?

I listened to the away game against Norwich live on the radio. This was almost as punishing as watching live. At times the team seem to come alive and make you think they can do something special. 2-0 down and then they wake up, score a goal, create several more chances and then camp in Norwich's penalty area for corner-kick practice just before half-time. Then in the second half it's a different team that emerges. The fight has gone out of them. Three more goals conceded and it's all over. To make things worse our leading striker from last season nets a hat-trick.

Therein lies the problem I'm afraid. Players from last season who no longer pull on the blue and white stripes for us. Cureton and Iwelumo plundered every defence on our behalf and scored a combined 41 league goals. Now they 'grace' the colours of Norwich and Charlton respectively. So far they have scored 22 between them with only a handful of games left. They have both had an impact in games against us. Garcia and Brown followed the money to Hull who now occupy a play-off place - like we also did last time for a while. Halford has been travelling the country (Reading, Sunderland, Charlton) seeking fame and fortune - one out of two can't be bad. Barker and Ephraim (both on loan last year) have now turned their stripes into hoops at QPR.

So that's last season - what about this season? Let's look at the team that strode out on the first game of the campaign at Brammal Lane. Six of the eleven are not currently in contention - Elokobi and Connolly are playing elsewhere, while Duguid, McLeod, Yeates and Sheringham (remember that famous U's player?) are all injured. I'm losing count of the centre halves that we keep breaking (Coyne and Heath). Long term injuries to Davison, Watson and Cousins. Not forgetting short term loanee Izale McLeod.

How many of the first starting line up at Sheffield United also started the match at Norwich this week? Three. Gerken, Jackson, Izzet. If you add in the substitutes I can find two more, Baldwin and White who have both struggled to command regular places.

Against this backdrop of defections and injuries how can any manager be expected to deliver the same results as last season, unless he has a solid squad of enough players to field two strong starting teams? Our current plight is not the manager's fault. It's partly circumstances, partly down to money, and partly the fact that Colchester have been unlucky with the amount of injuries. That doesn't mean the players are excused from turning up and performing for their employer every week.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Match 20 - Hull City

This was the crunch match of the season for me. The club that stole two key players from us before the season started and our manager at the start of last season. Mind you we whipped 'em good an' proper last year (5-1) , a game that effectively saw Parky get the sack, and at the time put us on the verge of a play-off position and Hull rooted in the bottom three. How times have changed!

The standard of play was different too. I have to say that Hull played some attractive imaginative football at times and thoroughly deserved the win tonight. As for the U's, well once again I am amazed that the manager can think they gave 100%. I saw forwards ambling around for most of the game, unable to control or pass the ball. Midfield ran the ball into trouble for no apparent reason, and defenders were panicking whenever they had the ball with time to spare. That's not even 50% in my calculation. How we managed to keep the score so close for so long until the killer goal near the end I don't know. Even some of the die-hard fans were out on the street before the end of this game along with the regular early leavers.

I remember earlier in the season Kevin Watson moaning at the fans who were moaning at the players. For a good half an hour the fans tonight were in great voice and we had quite a noise from the away terraces to contend with too. The atmosphere was much like a lot of the home games last season when we were on a high. But then the final hour brought a procession of half-hearted attempts, poor passing, running into trouble, and time wasted by Gerken tending to his cabbage patch ahead of every goal kick.

Even the best chances passed by without so much as a 'wooooooooo' from the home support. It has reached the stage when we just know that there's no point in getting excited unless someone is clear on goal and it's a dead cert that it's going in.

On the radio after the game the BBC Essex commentator was obsessed with the standard of refereeing, despite Geraint Williams telling him to get over it and move on. In fact I heard there were a lot of fans who felt that the referee spoiled the game. True, he wasn't up to an acceptable standard, but the real reason we lost is that the players didn't show enough quality on the ball, not enough passion or desire to win, no sense of where their teammates were, no idea what to do with the ball. I'm sorry, but my fellow supporters are blind to the obvious. Forget the officials. We need to get back to basics and play a team game.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Match 19 - Cardiff City

There was a brighter atmosphere at Layer Road this afternoon. The pressure of fighting for our lives seems to have been removed from us in view of the dire position we find ourselves in. I know it's actually, mathematically, statistically possible that we can extricate ourselves from this mess, but realistically in the final analysis we won't. The simple reason is that everyone else in the drop-zone above us is also fighting like mad to keep their heads above water. Our best hope, if there is one, is that they will somehow contrive to drown each other while we swim quietly around them and away.

But first we really need three points against the Bluebirds that flew across from Wales chanting their Wembley song. (I wonder if it really upsets them that the Millennium Stadium has been relegated now that Wembley is back on the agenda.) Three points, while those around us are losing their heads elsewhere in the country are vital to our own slim chance of survival. Three points to bring us closer to Scunthorpe - I'll bet no-one ever thought we'd be thinking like this. I remember earlier in the season Nigel Adkins, the Scunthorpe manager, saying he wanted to 'do a Colchester' in the Championship this season. I bet he wishes he'd kept his mouth shut now. Ironically our last match of the season is against them.

Three points just now would be one of the most welcome gifts we could ever enjoy in this sorry second season of Championship fun. Even Sheffield Wednesday might get nervous if they thought they had just got three points nearer the bottom of the league again. Three points. That's all I'm asking for. Preferably in the same match.

Well, I think I've been wishing too much for those three points. They have arrived in an envelope from the cops up the road in the Metropolis. It's a shame I didn't see the amber and red lights in time. An even bigger shame I didn't spot the camera or the signs either. So, I have my three points and I do wish I'd kept my mouth shut and my eyes open.

As it happens the one point we salvaged from Cardiff was a bright spot on an otherwise dull day. It brought the losing run to an end. We had the joy of seeing Hasselbaink sent off and Dave Jones getting ratty with the local fans. We saw the first senior start of Medy Elito, and another rock solid performance in the back four - Matt Heath on loan from League One strugglers Leeds. Smile, the man says, be happy, things could be worse.

So what shall I wish for next?

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Match 18 - Sheffield Wednesday

It would appear that there are two versions of what happened tonight. There is the version given by Geraint Williams in his post-match interview, and seemingly supported by the radio interviewer, that the players gave 100% in tonight's game. Sadly those who phoned, emailed, and sent text messages to BBC Essex had the same view of the game that I did. There were some absolutely dreadful performances out there. Gerken made us feel nervous all evening. The defence never looked like holding out for very long and it's thanks to Wednesday, for being the poor side that they are, that we only lost by one goal.

Mind you, the first quarter of an hour was uplifting. The first thing that made it all feel different was the choice of ends for starting the match. For the first time in simply ages we kicked off towards the Tamdown stand. It felt like things were going to be different. Then our goal celebrations were dampened by the uncertainty of whether the ball had crossed the line. Have you ever tried to start cheering again after your first attempt has started back-pedaling down your throat. For a few moments it wasn't clear whether we were in the lead until the linesman starting running back to the halfway line. Too late for most of us - we had to resort to celebratory actions without the words. However, after going a goal up the self-destruct button was pushed and by half time it really was all over bar the shouting.

Actually the shouting in one part of the ground was the most controversial part of the night. One foolhardy shirtless (yes, shirtless) Wednesday supporter in Terrace 2 kept Block A entertained for the first half. A curious set of circumstances then led to his ejection from the ground. The un-funny half-time roaming microphone carrier decided to invite all-comers from Terraces 1 and 2 for the crossbar competition. Our shirtless wonder didn't need any further encouragement and saw his chance to grace the hallowed turf. He wasn't really interested in the crossbar compo, and he didn't retreat more than 10 yards from the corner flag - preferring instead to engage in more bare-bating with the home fans. That was enough for the stewards who escorted him from the ground before the second half started.

There followed a lengthy period of chanting from both sets of supporters in favour of the ejectee, which resulted in a negotiated settlement whereby he was allowed to be reunited with his shirt and he disappeared into the depths of Terrace 2 for the rest of the evening. A victory for common sense? Hardly. The half-time safety announcement was forgotten so I have to conclude that we were at serious risk of danger for the next 45 minutes. Except that we weren't of course. There was no chance of the football creating any real enthusiasm after all that.

I think our fate is well and truly sealed now. I'd like to see us display our sense of humour when the away supporters taunt us with the predictable: 'Going Down, Going Down, Going Down'. We need to reply to the same tune: 'So Are We, So Are We, So Are We'. Or maybe someone will come up with a more original chant that we can take with us to our new home.

Let's cheer the Cardiff crowd on Saturday and remind them of their recent glory in reaching the Cup semi-final. Perhaps they will forget where they are and we will sneak a few goals while their minds are at Wem-ber-ley! We need to employ every tactic at our disposal now.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

White Flag?

First of all I have to pay tribute to the 120 or so devoted fans who travelled to Home Park Plymouth for the away thrashing that probably consigns us to playing Southend and Peterborough in League 1 next season. They are the true supporters of football at any level and from what I read in the papers the next day it seems that they have more faith than I do in the ability of our players to drag themselves out of trouble. There comes a time however when you have to get real and acknowledge your fate. Our fate, sad to say, is no longer totally in our hands. We rely on results in other parts of the country every week now. Realistically we need six wins out of the last 11 games and that's as many as we've managed all season in 35 games.

In the immediate future my eyes are on Scunthorpe, Sheffield Wednesday and Coventry and I wish them all the worst over the next nine and a half weeks - especially as we have to play all three of them in the run down. Looking further afield Preston, Leicester, Southampton and the other Sheffield outfit are possibly within range so my bad luck charms extend in their direction too - and two of these are also on our final checklist, so maybe we will have a little more say in the final reckoning after all.

But what of the good old U's and the Layer Road effect of last season? Is it just possible that even our own players are starting to feel intimidated by their own secret weapon - that they no longer feel welcome at Layer Road? Perhaps they have been spoilt by playing in the larger stadia which have seen some keen top flight conflicts over the years. Maybe they've had one eye on the new ground and are dreaming of future success in front of a capacity 10,000 crowd (or larger in years to come). Over the last few weeks it certainly seems as though the fans (myself included) have had their thoughts elsewhere during some games. Let's face it, at times the performance has left some people wishing they were somewhere else, and several of them have demonstrated that by leaving early.

I wonder how much effect the support from the terraces and stands really does have on a team's performance. I've speculated before whether the team needs to play well before the fans will respond or whether the fans need to be in full voice before the players even consider coming out for some pre-match practice.

Without a doubt we will be there to the very last home game hoping for a magical turnaround in performance and results along the way. I'm sure the 120 true fans will also be at Scunthorpe for the final game of the season. Is it too much to ask that this will be a final battle for survival - the winner gets to play at Derby next season?

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Match 17 - Wolves

Headline: George Elokobi puts in another solid performance at left back at Layer Road.

Sadly we sold him a few weeks ago to today’s opposition. I can’t pick another U’s player for special mention today. If I had to pick a Colchester ‘man of the match’ it would still be a Wolves player – any one of them. I left the ground feeling that even though Wolves were terrible and unlikely to have scored unless we gifted it to them – which we did – some of their players did more to threaten their domination of the game than we did. Even clear chances, or one-on-one with the keeper, or shots from afar went begging. I can’t argue that it just wasn’t our day. Wolves were the better team and they deserved to win because they kept on trying. The Wolves fans were louder as well.

I’ve mentioned Wolves enough times now to make a Very Important Point. What’s the next word that comes to mind when you think of wolves? Hungry! That’s what was missing. From the start of the afternoon’s entertainment (hah!) when the sponsors were paraded in front of us – fresh from the bar. They weren’t hungry either. They’d been polishing off their pints and pasties in the hospitality area. So it seems were the players. Nobody came onto the pitch with any indication of hunger. You just have to look at the forwards at kick-off. Their body language told us that they weren’t ready for this. Most of the rest were at least jumping on the spot or stretching their tired muscles. Our forwards were standing as still as statues, and they didn’t move much more during the rest of the match.

The defence weren’t hungry enough – let the ball bounce first – oops there’s a hungry Wolves player who does want the ball and it’s in the net. The midfield weren’t hungry today. Not one of them really got stuck in – none of them were booked. Free kicks and corners didn’t get above a few feet from the ground, and passes went astray. Everything about today’s performance was drab. It lacked passion and pride – and in the end it lacked what we actually need at the moment, Points! Yes, today was downright pointless.

Teddy Sheringham isn’t hungry for it any more either. He’s decided that this season will be his last. Well it’s looking like this will be our last in the Championship. It decision time chaps – forget the new stadium, which league do you want to be playing in next season?

I’ll bet if you ask the caterers who ate all the pies they’ll tell you that they sold more to the Wolves fans. Yes, even they were hungrier.