Relief is the word that springs to mind after that win. We dominated in large parts and we never really looked like losing, but you can’t help feeling nervous when you’re leading from a solitary goal. Don’t get me wrong, we looked very comfortable, but with our record of giving cheap goals away you had every reason to stand there chewing your nails. We got through it though, Colchester didn’t cause too many problems but when they did we dealt with them well.
I’m just delighted that we’ve got the result, and it probably should have been by a few more goals. My positive feeling before the game has been rewarded and there’s no avoiding the fact that we’ve left the game with three MASSIVE points.
The game got off to a fairly even start and the first 5 minutes proved to very scrappy as you’d expect. Both sides were taking time to settle as nerves perhaps were jangling, the ball being given away under no real pressure. City seemed to have settled down a few minutes later though as the lads started to knock the ball around confidently on a much improved Ricoh Arena surface, albeit without causing any problems.. Breaking down the Colchester back line proved to be a huge task as they sat very deep, with the Sky Blues looking to play the long ball too often. The away side did look poor though, every time they won the ball they’d play a hopeful long punt forward which Reda Johnson and Matthew Pennington easily swept up.
The first chance of the game was fashioned on 13 minutes as a neat move allowed Fleck space to receive the ball out wide. It was then his cross that found Jim O’Brien, but the skipper could only head straight at Sam Walker in the Colchester goal. Just seconds later and it was the U’s who tested Lee Burge at the other end, Jordan Willis was dispossessed which let Gavin Massey take aim from the edge of the area but it was held by the City stopper.
City continued to dictate the pace of the game though and they were enjoying a lot of time and space on the ball. The away side had parked the bus in front of their goal which frustrated the Sky Blues as they looked to go forward. Adam Barton fired wide from long range on 19 minutes before a weak pass back from a Colchester defender allowed Proschwitz to poke the ball on goal, Walker was on hand to save though. Long range shots were what City had to settle for as they couldn’t find a killer ball to unlock the defence, and Nouble had made another fairly lacklustre start to the game.
The home side continued to look for an opener and after some more optimistic efforts we took the lead on 36 minutes. A ball was prodded forward prior to the goal which allowed Nouble to test the keeper before the ball was cleared. The resulting throw-in is what set up the goal though as Stokes picked up the ball, he then beat his man out wide in what was a very bright start from the on-loan defender. It was his smart and well executed pull back that found Jim O’Brien who managed to peel away from his marker, he then placed the ball in to the far corner with a superb finish to give the Sky Blues a goal advantage.
Colchester would show the odd glimpse of quality going forward but City defended well, the midfield were winning the battle in the centre of the park too. This allowed possession to still be controlled and confidence looked to be higher after opening the scoring. It was a very combative final few minutes of the first half but the Sky Blues had the last attempt on goal. Another characteristic tackle from O’Brien gave him space to pick out a cross, Proschwitz then rose above his marker but to no avail as his header dropped just wide of the target. The referee sounded the half-time whistle soon after to bring an end to a very commanding opening 45 minutes, the Sky Blues enjoying 70 percent of possession.
Colchester came out of the traps early in the second half as I have no doubt they would have received a rollicking in the changing rooms. It took them just 3 minutes to create their first chance which could have easily levelled the scores. Only a brilliant Burge save could deny George Moncur who skipped past two City players unchallenged before drilling a shot towards the far corner. Just a minute later and the young keeper was called in to action again as Gavin Massey was allowed to let fly this time around. This early period of excellence from the U’s showed us City fans that the game was far from over as they looked dangerous when they actually made ventures forward.
After riding out a short spell of Colchester pressure, the Sky Blues looked to control the game again with possession of the ball high on the agenda. It was scrappy in periods but it was clear to see why City are above their opponents in the division, a side who looked very poor and void of any real threat without Freddie Sears who joined Championship Ipswich in January. The away side were then let off on 56 minutes as the Sky Blues were inches away from doubling their advantage. A superb Adam Barton pass found Nick Proschwitz who then rounded the goalkeeper, surely he would score? Unfortunately not as his effort bounced off the post to our disbelief, the striker still without a goal for the club.
Despite City looking the better side all over the park, Colchester did create another chance just before the hour mark. A goalmouth scramble occured after a shot was blocked in the area before Lee Burge managed to palm the ball behind for a corner. Chris Porter then met the resulting delivery but Burge was there again to hold on and save. An attack down the right then caused us some danger as a curling cross bounced in a very dangerous area, but nobody was there to meet it though to the Sky Blues relief.
It was a fairly even final 20 minutes or so to the game as both teams looked for a goal, City were looking to seal the tie whilst the away side desperately needed an equaliser. The Sky Blues were the next to create though as Chris Stokes got forward as he had all game before pulling back the ball to find Nouble this time, the striker couldn’t get his effort on target though as he got under the ball and blazed over under no real pressure. Colchester countered with the next move though as they broke forward, Reda Johnson was there however to brilliantly intercept a through ball that would have put Murphy through on goal.
A few more chances were carved out before the end of the game but neither team could grab a goal. On 79 minutes Richard Brindley wandered through the middle of the City midfield before slicing an effort wide from the edge of the area. Substitute James Maddison then went close up the other end as he drove a strike towards the top corner, Sam Walker somehow sprung to save though with his fingertips diverting the ball on to the crossbar. Colchester then hit the woodwork themselves on 84 minutes as a corner was headed in to Sammie Szmodics’ path, the frontman’s effort then beat Lee Burge but not the crossbar which denied him. Frank Nouble then had one final chance to make it a wider margin of victory but he volleyed wide on 88 minutes, City defended admirably for the remainder of the affair to claim a huge victory which ended a wretched period of home form.
What a great feeling it is to get three points at home – I’d almost forgot what it felt like. Today though it was a necessity that we picked up a win and I’m delighted we stood up to the pressure and got it. We could of easily crumbled under the expectation, especially at home, but we came out of the other end unscathed. It wasn’t just the result that pleased me, the performance was very good too. For once we actually looked like the home side as we looked in control of affairs, and apart from a few relatively small scares we never really looked like conceding.
Colchester were surprisingly poor given their recent form and they looked void of options going forward. I have to give it to our defence though, when the ball did get in to our final third they were on hand to clear the danger and conserve the clean sheet. Lee Burge also deserves a huge amount of credit as he made a couple of wonderful saves in the second period to deny the away side a route back in to the game. One thing that has undoubtedly improved with him is his confidence, he’s gone from a lad who looked depressed at being second choice all season to a man who has made the number one shirt his own. He’s been magnificent.
We looked solid in the centre of the field too, which is a pleasant surprise given that it’s been a weak link in parts this season. I’ve never doubted the quality we have in there but we were lacking another combative player, the addition of Grant Ward has helped tremendously as the other midfielders can enjoy a bit more freedom. John Fleck was also superb as he pulled the strings with some magnificent forward passes, it could’ve been a more comfortable victory if the strikers were sharper.
Overall it has to be one of the best home performances of the season. Clearly we could be more potent going forward, with only 5 of our 18 efforts hitting the target… But at least we created. Defensively there was some let offs but we’ve kept another clean sheet so it’s all good really. With all the teams around us playing eachother today it was huge to get a win as we picked up maximum points whilst some of our rivals clearly dropped points. We can’t get carried away though, we’re still only 3 points above the bottom four albeit with a better goal difference. Another win on Tuesday though and we’ll be a whole lot closer to survival, it’s not over yet. The ball is firmly in our court however, only we can decide our fate. Let’s build against Oldham.
Lee Burge – 8
Chris Stokes – 8.5
Reda Johnson – 7.5
Matthew Pennington – 7.5
Jordan Willis – 7.5
John Fleck – 8.5
Adam Barton – 7
Grant Ward – 7
Jim O’Brien – 7.5
Nick Proschwitz – 5.5
Frank Nouble – 5.5
James Maddison – 7
Aaron Phillips – 7
Sanmi Odelusi – 5