|Letters from Wiltshire #24|
Written by wessex_exile on Saturday, 19th Dec 2020 14:39
Welcome to our last match before Christmas. With South Essex going into Tier 3, by the time we take to the pitch at Roots Hall, it’ll be another behind-closed-doors match. With the Tier 3 boundary creeping inexorably closer, one wonders how long the JobServe will hold out and still be able to allow fans to attend. Robbie is doing all he can to make it possible for supporters to attend, and I confess I’m seriously considering our January 2nd match against Tranmere. In other news, I’m relieved to read that the FA will not take disciplinary action against Colchester United after a shameful minority chose to boo players and officials taking the knee, in the words of the EFL “[i]as they highlight the inequality and injustice experienced by the Black Community[/i]”. I noticed a tiny minority chose to boo at our mid-week match at the Abbey Stadium, but I was pleased to hear they were immediately drowned out by the remainder of the 2,000 cheering and applauding. I admit I’m a little anxious about today…
[b]Scunthorpe United v Colchester United
Letters from Wiltshire #24, and we have a real humdinger to celebrate – a trip to Glanford Park towards the tail-end of a season of struggle, just our second season in Division 2 since promotion via the play-offs. I’ve already featured a number of matches from this season, indeed Matches of Yesteryear #27 featured our home game against high-fliers Burnley just the previous Saturday. At the risk of repeating myself then, this was very much a rebuilding period for Steve Whitton and the U’s, repairing the damage left behind by departing manager Mick Wadsworth shortly after the season started.
I was living in Salisbury at the time, and with good friends Tobin and Julie (both Preston North End supporters) living in Lincoln at the time, took the opportunity to travel up on the Friday afternoon to spend the weekend with them. This wasn’t our first football trip together, Tobin, Julie, myself and a few others had travelled over to the Abbey Stadium in 1997 for our Tuesday evening match (we were all working in London at the time). Some of you may remember that match, it was just two days after Princess Diana died, and following a minute’s silence before kick-off, we were then soundly thrashed 4-1! I missed the highlight of the game whilst on the bacon roll run at half-time, when apparently some sort of “Peoples Front of Judea” moment ended up in fisticuffs amongst our own supporters…
[b]Another one bites the dust…[/b]
[b]Names to conjure with[/b]
Our line-up that afternoon was:
Scunthorpe were player-managed at the time by Brian Laws, who’d had a pretty good playing career at Burnley, Huddersfield, Middlesbrough and most notably Nottingham Forest. Laws played in the ill-fated FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough, and in the rearranged fixture managed to score an own goal as Liverpool went on to win 3-1. Looking through the squad list on the back of the programme, three names stand out – Lee Hodges, Guy Ipoua (brother of Cameroon international Sammy) and of course at no. 28, Stephane Pounewatchy. I can only assume Hodges, who the Iron had signed for £50,000 the previous summer, must have been injured, as he wasn’t even on the bench. Although one from the Wadsworth era, I actually really liked Pounewatchy and was sorry to see him go. Didn’t like him so much during the AutoWindscreens final mind…
Steve Whitton was bigging this match up beforehand, stating that "[i]these are the kind of games where we've got to be ruthless, Scunthorpe are below us in the table and the outcome of this match could prove crucial to us staying in the Second Division. We still need points to stay up despite our relative safe position in mid-table, that's why tomorrow's trip to Glanford Park is a really big game for us[/i]”.
Guy Ipoua was subbed after just 8 minutes – I can’t remember exactly why, but I assume it must have been an injury. More worrying, Richard Wilkins was clearly struggling during the first half, after aggravating a neck injury, and he didn’t come out for the second half, replaced by Aaron Skelton (of Layer Road netting fame) – that didn’t bode well for our chances of scoring. Brian Laws brought on Gary Bull to try and inject some urgency into proceedings, countered ten minutes later by the introduction of our own super-sub Lomana Tresor Lua Lua. Lua Lua did at least bring some life into the game, prompting Laws to tighten things up in midfield with the introduction Matt Sparrow.
And thus it continued, with neither side on top, neither side able to break the deadlock, and after 448 days, we had another goalless draw blotting our copy book.
[b]Scunthorpe United 0 Colchester United 0[/b]
In the context of where we were that season, it actually wasn’t that bad a result, particularly following on from a home defeat against Burnley, and with expectations of getting anything from our next game at Deepdale against champions-elect Preston North End very low indeed. How wrong we were, as a Lua Lua masterclass, bewitching and bamboozling the PNE defence, danced through to give the U’s a thoroughly well-deserved 3-2 victory. Back home visiting family at the time, Tobin and Julie were at Deepdale to see that performance.
[b]Mr Colchester United[/b]
There wasn’t, and he didn’t – though it wasn’t quite the last time I saw Richard Wilkins, that would be jammed into a packed Layer Road two years later for his testimonial match against Glenn Hoddle’s Tottenham Hotspur.
Up the U’s
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Letters from Wiltshire #45 by wessex_exile
Tonight, Colchester United face Southend United in what may not necessarily be the most important game of our respective histories (though it’s certainly very close), but is almost certainly the most important Essex derby ever. However this season pans out, by the end of it there’ll either be only one team in Essex, or worst case scenario, none at all. If the U’s win, then Southend will be 9pts behind with just three games to go, and a minimum of a -12 goal difference to overturn if they want to overtake us. Certainly mathematically possible, but that would rely on a remarkable turnaround in their form, form that they’ve shown precious little sign of achieving so far this season. The stalking horse is Grimsby, with their game in hand, who have rather belatedly shown an improvement in form, so their match against automatic promotion chasing Morecambe tonight is equally important, particularly if we want to avoid the unthinkable, with both Essex clubs dropping out of the league.
Letters from Wiltshire #44 by wessex_exile
So here we are, as the nation mourns the passing of His Royal Highness, Duke of Edinburgh, the U’s face the first of two season-defining moments, with our late kick-off match at home to Walsall. Before then, no doubt many will have been focused on events elsewhere, not least the early kick-offs for Grimsby (at home to promotion-chasing Bolton Wanderers), and particularly Essex rivals Southend United, who faced a tricky visit to Exeter City – still very much in the hunt for at least a play-off spot. As I finalise this blog, I know that Grimsby have beaten Bolton 2-1, and Southend earned a credible 0-0 draw in the West Country. More to the point, the U’s will know this too. Whilst I can’t help but feel that will ought to be to our advantage, it surely must also put additional pressure on a squad whose confidence is paper-thin. We must hope that Hayden Mullins, assisted by Paul Tisdale, get their heads right, and send the lads out this evening fired up with self-belief.
Letters from Wiltshire #43 by wessex_exile
Well, that has been a lively week for Colchester United in the press, and not least for Robbie Cowling, with not one, or two, but kind of three club announcements in rapid succession to try and put the record straight. First, we had Tribunalgate, which certainly looked very poor according to the initial press reports, but which on closer inspection when some of the ‘fact gaps’ were filled in wasn’t anywhere near the story that some would have us believe. Then of course we had the ‘leak’ that the U’s were about to go into administration, despite all the reassurances we’d been given in previous statements from Robbie. Not so said Robbie again, and particularly angry at what he believed to be the source of the story. Hence statement #3, repeating his assurances, but this time after passing through the lawyer filter to remove his thoughts on the source. To paraphrase Robbie’s conclusion to that statement, let’s hope we can all have a day off from this sort of media shenanigans and enjoy our game at Oldham tonight!
Letters from Wiltshire #42 by wessex_exile
Well, these sure are strange times at Colchester United, particularly for a club (nor a Chairman) not usually associated with the ‘managerial revolving door’ approach. With results not matching expectations or even minimum requirements, and a brief spell after being appointed Interim Head Coach, Wayne Brown has been released to return to the Jammers, for whenever their pandemic-interrupted football restarts. In comes not one, or two, but three new ‘appointments’. Hayden Mullins steps up as Head Coach to the end of the season, Joe Dunne apparently comes back to the U’s in a sort of unofficial coaching/ team-spirit sort of role, and exceptionally experienced lower-league former Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale arrives to provide Hayden with advice and support – crikey!
Letters from Wiltshire #41 by wessex_exile
This afternoon the U’s take on Bradford City in a bid to gather sufficient points to stay clear of the bottom two. It’ll be a tough gig though, even if (as I suspect) Bradford City have left it a bit too late to challenge the play-off spots. They were on a decent run of form, that is until defeats at Newport, Carlisle, Scunthorpe and a goalless draw at home to Oldham put paid to any lingering promotion hopes. For us, it’s simple, to stay out of the bottom two, for all intents and purposes we only need to gain half (or more) of the points that Grimsby or Southend do. Sounds easy, just wish I felt more confident we will…