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When Saturday Comes #12
Written by wessex_exile on Sunday, 31st Oct 2021 14:12

A relegation six-pointer already, seriously! Grim news so early in a season which had such promise, but that may well turn out to be the reality when the dust settles in May. On the eve of All-Hallows Eve, I’m wondering whether the U’s will have served up Trick or Treat by 5pm this afternoon. Plenty has been written over the last week by supporters, the press, even the Chairman about the protests during and after the Sutton United rocky horror football show, and whilst everyone has the right to voice their opinion on the club’s fortunes on and off the pitch, that doesn’t give anyone (even the Chairman) the right to be abusive – it’s not big, it’s not clever, and if anything it undermines the validity of that opinion.

This week it’s all about the numbers. US authorities have ruled out the possibility that Covid was developed as a biological weapon, and favour either animal-to-human transmission or a laboratory leak as the most likely source. Regardless, with an estimated 4.9m dead around the world, Covid has proven more deadly than pretty much all military conflicts combined since the start of the 3rd millennium – a chilling statistic.

In lighter news, David Bowie’s estate are in discussions about selling the rights to his entire songwriting catalogue for an estimated £200m, or in football terms one Neymar or two Jack Grealish’s. Who could have predicted, when Aston Villa paid the princely sum of £100 to West Bromwich Albion for Willie Groves back in 1893, quite where the madness would take us?

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about, with the UK adapting to the new normal of home-working, staycations etc., the Rail Delivery Group have reported that train journeys were down to 45% of what they were pre-Covid. I fear that will be a statistic that long-suffering rail users will be combating through their ticket prices before too long.

3.1 million hours – no, not the delay to the 1645 to Surbiton – that’s how long 403,171 spills pumped untreated sewage into our rivers and seas in 2020 according to the Environment Agency. Following public outrage over this problem, a landslide vote in the House of Lords, and indeed a back-bench revolt, the government has been forced into a u-turn and reluctantly agreed to put into place legislation to force water companies to clean up their act (quite literally).

[b]Closer to home[/b]
So apart from all the banners, protests, programme paper planes, abuse etc., the main news this week is the announcement that our visit to Forest Green Rovers on 13th November has been postponed due to U’s player international call-ups. From this particular exile’s viewpoint, that is galling – even if my trip to the Fully Charged New Lawn may well have been uncomfortable viewing.

Usually international postponements require three players to be ruled out. Yes, Sutton United got away with two call-ups when they cited other injuries and a Covid infection, and I bet they’re bloody glad they did now. A lot of the speculation on the messageboards has been who is the third call-up? Obviously Tommy Smith and Armando Dobra must be the first two, but many believe the third is Wiredu for Ghana?

For the EFL to sanction the postponement these must be home nation confirmed intentions, rather than just idle speculation. Time will tell if it is Wiredu, or another member of our squad with non-English heritage links we’ve not thought of, but whoever it is, good luck to all our international U’s – even if you’ve buggered up a football awayday for me.

Lest we forget, not only will the match today mark the re-opening of the [b]Noah[/b] Memorial Fan Zone, but as we don’t have a home fixture again this side of Remembrance Day, it will also be the occasion when the U’s family – club and supporters alike – gather to remember the fallen. Pre-match, the club is hosting the launch of this year’s Colchester Poppy Appeal, with the mayor Cllr Robert Davidson afforded the honour of donating for the first poppy of the appeal. Alongside Robbie Cowling, also joining the event will be Colchester Garrison Commander Lieutenant Colonel Ed Rankin, High Steward Bob Russell and Will Quince MP – should make for a tense corporate box if Bob stays for the match, wonder if he had to pay for his ticket 😊.

[b]Stat attack[/b]
Like most of our festivals, the origins of Halloween go right back to pre-Christian pagan Britain, when we celebrated Samhain, the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the cold dark winter. It was a time when the boundary between the worlds of the living and dead was most blurred and spirits walked the earth. These days, it’s all about candy and pumpkins – our ancestors would be spinning in their graves…or they would if they weren’t up and about wandering the land.

So, for this week’s stat attack, I thought (even though I’m a day early) I’d take a look at how the U’s generally fair when the dead are roaming the earth (and no, I don’t mean our forwards). We’ve played 12 times on Halloween, 11 in the league and once in the League Cup (a 2nd round home game against Southampton back in 1960).

The line-up of opponents over the years is quite an impressive who’s who of sleeping giants (and one or two tiddlers thrown in for good measure), comprising Torquay United (1953), Bradford City (1959), Southampton (1960), Reading (1964), Wolverhampton Wanderers (1986), Fulham (1995), Scunthorpe United (1997), Manchester City (1998), Wrexham (2003), Norwich City (2006), Millwall (2009) and most recently Doncaster Rovers (2015). I think it’s more a measure of how far some of those clubs have fallen in their past rather than former glory days for the U’s – though of course that 2006 match against Norwich was in the Championship (we lost 2-1)

Admittedly the home to away spread is imbalanced, just four matches at home (Southampton, Reading, Wolves and Scunthorpe) and the rest away, but our fortunes are pretty poor on Halloween – just two victories, five draws and five defeats. Our solitary victories were an emphatic 3-0 victory for Mike Walker over Wolves at Layer Road, and a considerably less emphatic narrow 1-0 win at the Racecourse for Phil Parkinson over Wrexham.

The positives – well, for a side struggling to score goals, we generally do on Halloween, only failing to register three times (twice under Benny Fenton and that most recent game against Doncaster under Tony Humes). Then again, at the other end, we’ve only kept three clean sheets as well – the two victories mentioned and a 0-0 draw at the Valley in 1959.

Incidentally, keeping the horror theme going, that previous game against Scunthorpe United was a proper Jekyll and Hyde performance. The U’s raced to a 3-0 lead at half-time with goals from Isaiah Rankin, Paul Buckle and Mark Sale, only to roll-over in the second half and concede three goals. Okay, with the benefit of hindsight we were still promoted via the play-offs that season, and we all had another day out at Wembley, but those two points dropped meant the difference between the play-offs and automatic promotion.

[b]Match of the Day
[i]Forest Green Rovers v Colchester United
2nd April 2018
Sky Bet Football League Two (Tier 4)
Attendance 2,869[/i][/b]

[i]Match of the Day[/i] for WSC12 returns to the random match generator, and keeping the supernatural religious festival theme going, it has eerily chosen our 2018 Easter Monday visit to recently postponed opponents Forest Green Rovers. At the time my next-door neighbour worked as head groundsman for FGR, and happily laid on free tickets and complimentary programmes for me and Alfie. Not quite my closest fixture, these days that’s Swindon Town, but still a closer drive than, for instance, going into the office (not that I do a lot of that these days).

If I had a complaint, The New Lawn isn’t the easiest of venues to get to on public transport, so my visits have always been sober affairs, albeit I get home in plenty of time to make up for that 😊. In 2018 this wasn’t just my first visit to the New Lawn, it was the U’s first visit too, and after welcoming the Green Devils to the football league with a 5-1 thumping back in August, a sizeable following made the journey over from Essex, no doubt many of which to tick another ground off the list and maybe try their hand at vegan pies.

It had been a bit of a topsy turvy season by and large, and despite back-to-back victories over Stevenage and Luton Town coming into this match, realistic hopes of making the play-offs were fading. Not mathematically impossible, but we’d need an exceptionally good run in to do so. Forest Green Rovers on the other hand were having a difficult first season in the football league and were struggling to avoid going straight back into the National League.

The U’s lined up:
1….Sam Walker
2….Ryan Jackson
22..Kane Vincent-Young
18..Tom Eastman
5….Luke Prosser (captain)
14..Brandon Comley
17..Ben Stevenson
10..Sammie Szmodics (Liam Mandeville 87’)
20..Courtney Senior (Olamide Shodipo 70’)
7….Drey Wright (Sean Murray 78’)
19..Mikael Mandron

Gathering on the open terrace in plenty of time for the pre-match warm-ups, amongst 340 of the faithful, and after a quick pre-kick off chat with my neighbour (out on the pitch doing his thing), up went the traditional roar of support as the ref started the match. Sixteens seconds later, the U’s were 1-0 up after Mandron and Szmodics combined well for Szmods to cross to Drey Wright who somewhat awkwardly bundled the ball home, giving the travelling support something to really cheer about. Graeson’s Coludata website states that it was the fastest goal scored in League Two that season, and the 3rd fastest in the history of Colchester United – I’m struggling to think what might have been the other two, so any suggestions gratefully received?

You know how it is, suddenly you find yourselves thinking if we can score that quickly, that easily, how many are we going to get today, am I going to be a witness to another Bradford or Leamington? Of course it never really works out that way (take last Tuesday as a prime example), with the match settling down once FGR found their composure and shape. There we still chances for the U’s mind you, with FGR offering very little threat at the other end in the first 20-30 minutes. Wright very nearly returned the favour for Szmodics approaching the half hour, but Sammie hooked the cross just over the bar. Shortly after, Mandron went close with a low drilled cross which if I’m honest probably lacked the power to beat Bradley Collins in the FGR goal if it had been on target.

And then of course, after taking an early lead and pretty much controlling the game throughout, the U’s were pegged back to 1-1. An innocuous lofted ball into the penalty area was controlled well by Hollis, although going nowhere and with his back to goal, when a lazy sweep to take a leg out by Eastman gave the referee the easiest penalty decision of his career. Reuben Reid (why does he always seem to do well against the U’s!) made no mistake from the spot, and the U’s had conceded penalties two matches running.

Half-time arrived with very little further action, time to see if I could persuade Alfie to try a vegan pie – he wasn’t having it but was perfectly happy to take a very good tray of chips. If I’m honest, despite everyone moaning about vegan this and that, I thought the food at the New Lawn was some of the best I’ve experienced, certainly in the lower leagues.

Second half, could the U’s start brightly and get our faltering promotion challenge back on track? Yes was the answer. With echoes of the first half, within two minutes the U’s were back in front. Mandron did well down the right hand side, passed in to Ben Stevenson who beelined for the goal and from the edge of the box shot across the face of the goal to nestle just inside the far post. Not quite a rasper, it kind of bobbled a bit on its way, but still left Collins with no chance.

Surely this time we could capitalise on our advantage, take the game to FGR, kill it with a third goal? Well, the answer to that question was no, but not really for want of trying. As the game wore on there were decent chances for the U’s, probably the best being another Wright effort which Wishert did well to block on the line. As the second half wore on, it became more a tactical battle between John McGreal and his counterpart Mark Cooper, with a succession of substitutions being made by both managers to either hold on or grab something from the game – depending of course on your perspective.

It was Sean “always in a hurry” Murray who came closest to making a name for himself as a super-sub, shooting straight at Collins after good work from fellow substitute Olamide Shodipo. A minute later, Murray was at the other end mopping up after Sam Walker spilled a shot dangerously into the box, and eventually the final whilst blew for a tough but well-deserved victory over a Forest Green Rovers side who played better than their league position would have suggested.

[b]Forest Green Rovers 1 (Reuben Reid 37’p) Colchester United 2 (Drey Wright 1’; Ben Stevenson 47’)[/b]

Our third consecutive victory moved the U’s to within four points of the play-offs, and damn it all Madame Hope had returned to the faithful. Of course, having made a brief appearance she soon disappeared just as quickly after the U’s then lost the next three matches, two at home. To be fair, we had an incredibly difficult run-in, and those three matches were against leaders Accrington Stanley and play-off qualifiers Notts County and Lincoln City, but still…

Forest Green Rovers escaped by the skin of their teeth, just one point (and a significantly inferior goal difference) ahead of relegated Barnet. Of course, the irony is this season FGR are not only riding high at the top of the league, but with U’s goal scorer from 2018 Ben Stevenson as a regular part of their line-up.

The highlights are still available on YouTube if you want to see the 3rd fastest goal in Colchester United history!

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