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When Saturday Comes #32
Written by wessex_exile on Sunday, 3rd Apr 2022 14:25

[i]When Saturday Comes[/i] and the U’s face the longish trip to Harrogate Town for only the second time in our history – let’s hope the journey is more fruitful than our 3-0 defeat on our first visit last March. On the back of our stirring 1-0 victory over promotion chasing Tranmere Rovers, not least Junior Tchamadeu’s blistering injury time winner, we can be at least hopeful for a better return this time. Moreso considering our two previous 1-0 defeats were also against promotion contenders Bristol Rovers and league leaders FGR, with the U’s unlucky not to have got points in both of them.

[b]Take a moment to appreciate Junior’s technical brilliance one more time[/b]

With sanctions continuing to bite into the Russian economy, there is hope that an end to their war on Ukraine may be coming, albeit no doubt at the price of an unsavoury compromise deal for Ukraine with their Soviet aggressors – and who says crime doesn’t pay. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has confirmed that although slow, Russian forces do appear to be withdrawing from the north of his country, allegedly sowing the ground behind them with mines in the process. Their focus still remains in the south, looking to gain a land bridge with Crimea which they occupied in 2014.

The Duke of York appears incapable of staying out of the media spotlight right now, only this time dragging his daughters into the mess two. Newspapers report that a spokesman for the Duke claim a £750,000 payment into his bank account by alleged Turkish conman Selman Turk was nothing more than a “[i]wedding gift[/i]” for Princess Beatrice, though no explanation offered (that I can read anywhere) for another £25,000 paid to Princess Eugenie. Turk is a former Goldman Sachs banker, and accused of stealing £40m from Turkish millionairess Nebahat Evyap Isbilen.

Of course, the really big news of the week was ‘that slap’. On a night when he should have been celebrating his achievements as a black actor in a white-dominated film industry, Will Smith instead chose to bring yet more male aggression to the table in a world thoroughly sick of it, reacting to a pretty lame joke by Chris Rock about his wife’s hair – a lame joke he initially laughed in response to. Will Smith has since resigned from Hollywood’s Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, it remains to be seen what action the Academy might take.

[b]”Alexa, show me fragile masculinity…”[/b]

[b]U’s World[/b]
Although a relatively quiet week as far as Colchester United is concerned, as the YouTube link above shows, the U’s have launched their March goal of the month award. Quite why they just don’t give it to Junior is beyond me, but credit to Owura Edwards and Noah Chilvers (x2) for making a competition of it. Alan Judge should get Assist of the Season btw.

On Tuesday night the U’s hosted another England U20 match, when the Young Lions faced bitter rivals Germany at the JobServe. With over 8,000 turning up for the match, albeit at just £5 per ticket, it was great to see another big crowd in the stadium. They were treated to a dominant display by England, taking a half-time 1-0 lead thanks to a 10th minute opener from Sam Greenwood. James McAtee doubled the lead on 50 minutes via a deflection, and substitute Tyrhys Dolan made it safe just after the hour mark with a third. Samardzic did pull a late goal back for Germany, but it was nothing more than a consolation.

[b]Stat attack[/b]
There are no stats to speak of against Harrogate Town – promoted to the Football League last season, this will be just the fourth game we have played against the Sulphurites – so named for the hot springs the Town is famous for…that and Betty’s Tea Room of course. We have won both matches at the JobServe, but as mentioned above, lost on our first visit to Wetherby Road 3-0 last March. Time to put that right then.

Another fascinating record however, and one worthy of sharing, was achieved by Port Vale last Saturday. After defeating Sutton United 2-0 at Vale Park, Port Vale became the first Football League side to have played and beaten every other 91 Football League sides in the league. Considering they have never played in the topflight, that is some achievement, and indeed testimony to the fact that even the upper reaches of the Premier League have spent time lower down the football pyramid on occasion.

Although Oldham’s midweek victory over also struggling Leyton Orient has narrowed the gap for the U’s above the relegation trapdoor, with superior goal difference and an 8pt lead above free-falling Stevenage and Oldham, I can’t see both of them overtaking the U’s. Even then, Barrow would have to do likewise, and they’re 5pts behind the U’s. Obviously, I’d rather not take any chances and continue to accrue as many points as possible to be absolutely certain of safety – but, I suspect on 42 points we’re already safe if truth be told.

Today, Barrow host automatic promotion chasing Port Vale, and Stevenage entertain fellow strugglers Oldham (and they can’t both win). Forget Scunthorpe, they’re toast already, so seeing them get gubbed at the New Lawn against FGR, whilst amusing, will really mean nothing to the U’s. We can’t drop down the league today, but if Rochdale fail to beat play-off hopefuls Swindon Town, and the U’s win at Harrogate Town we will overtake them and move into 19th place.

[b]Match of the Day
[i]Colchester United v Exeter City
18th June 2020
Sky Bet League Two (Tier 4)
Attendance 0[/i][/b]

[i]Match of the Day[/i] for this blog, and the random match selector has chosen a match from our recent past, the play-off First Leg game against Exeter City. Now, obviously I wasn’t there, no one was, unless of course you count the Faithful cardboard cut-outs in attendance for the game, mine included. I do, however, have a programme for the match, so this one definitely counts as part of my memorabilia collection. For the record, the match was screened live on Sky Sports, so like most/ all of you, I did of course watch the game as well as being there in spirit. For the record, this was our first ever competitive fixture behind closed doors – plenty more were to follow sadly.

With no pre-match high jinks to report on, let’s cut to the chase and recollect quite why we were in the play-offs. Covid-19 had bought a premature halt to the football season in March 2020, a season which became very clear very quickly wasn’t going to restart any day soon. After some deliberation, the football authorities decided that final league would be determined on points per game – not a decision clubs were universally happy with, particularly those who missed out on a promotion chance, or were relegated as a result, but certainly probably the fairest metric to use.

Fortunately for the U’s, although our promotion challenge had hit a bit of a slump, losing four of our previous six games, the 3-0 victory at Carlisle gave us – [b][u]just[/b][/u] – one of the four play-off places, and by a margin of just 0.03 points per game over 8th place Port Vale. This meant playing at home for the first leg, traditionally considered a disadvantage, against Exeter City. The Grecians were particularly aggrieved about the PPG ruling, feeling they still had enough about them to gain automatic promotion. That one of the three promoted automatically was bitter rivals Plymouth Argyle really couldn’t have helped their feelings on injustice.

After over three months of not playing competitive football, John McGreal’s U’s lined up for the first leg as follows:

1….Dean Gerken
2….Ryan Jackson
3….Cohen Bramall
18..Tom Eastman
5….Luke Prosser
24..Ben Stevenson (4. Tom Lapslie 78’)
8….Harry Pell
49..Kwame Poku (11. Paris Cowan-Hall 89’)
7….Courtney Senior (26. Luke Gambin 68’)
45..Frank Nouble
9….Luke Norris (13. Theo Robinson 77’)

In recognition of the impact on players fitness as a result of the football season Covid curtailment, clubs in the play-offs were allowed to name a 9-man bench, with up to five substitutes allowed during any three intervals in the match. The allowance would stay in effect for the following 2020/21 season, eventually being scrapped at the start of this season.

With the premature end to the football season, and the likelihood that most/ all of the following season being played behind closed doors, tough financial decisions were already being made at clubs up and down the country. Not least at Colchester United, where it had already been announced that contracts for Luke Prosser, Frank Nouble and Ryan Jackson, all starters for this match, wouldn’t be renewed, nor Brandon Comley who didn’t feature that day.

In a match that kicked off at the quirky time of 5.15pm on a Thursday early evening, in truth it was a poor game for the most part. Perhaps understandably in many ways, the stadium was just an echo chamber for shouts from the bench, players were lacking match fitness, and play-off first legs are traditionally nervy tense encounters at the best of times. Add to that three of the team knew however well they did in the play-offs, they weren’t going to be about to enjoy the potential benefits next season, and this was never likely to be a stellar performance.

Exeter City weren’t much better, although did have the edge of the U’s in the opening exchanges. Aaron Martin headed effort from an Exeter City corner looped safely over the bar early on, but it would take until the mid-point of the first half for the U’s to register a serious attempt on target. Following a foul on Chuck Norris, and with a glimpse of things to come, Cohen Bramall curled a 25 yard free kick over the wall. To be honest, it looked like it was going over the bar too, but ‘keeper Lewis Ward wasn’t taking any chances, and palmed it over to be certain.

Although I was hopeful this would be the prelude of better things to come, sadly it didn’t prove to be the case, not helped particularly by a water break more or less straight after Cohen’s effort, which kind of took any momentum out of the U’s. On the half hour mark Courtney Senior did steal in at the back post to try and head a cross back towards Luke Norris in space, but he couldn’t get enough purchase on the header. In fact, the break seemed to give Exeter more renewed impetus, and shortly after Harry Pell did well to block Nicky Law’s goal-bound shot. On 38 minutes Lee Martin was taken off injured for the Grecians, to be replaced by Matt Jay, but the first half fizzled out at 0-0 with very little additional action to speak of.

The problem was we simply weren’t creating opportunities to get Senior and Poku more into the game, but McGreal preserved into the second half without any changes (to either the line-up or the tactics so it seemed). However, we were certainly less flat than the first half, and a powerful effort from Senior flashed inches past the near post early on. As a warning shot across their bows, it worked for Exeter City, who came back to skim the side-netting from Matt Jay’s 20-yard free-kick on the hour mark.

Exeter City manager Matt Taylor was the first to roll the dice, bringing on Archie Collins for Nicky Law at the next water break on 67 minutes. This was followed immediately by McGreal, with Luke Gambin replacing what had been our only serious goal threat in the match, Courtney Senior – wtf! However, as incredulous as I was about the change, it seemed to have worked, with Gambin adding more bite to our midfield, freeing up strikers Norris and Nouble to better go about their business.

Breaking from the back, on 75 minutes the U’s surged forward, in a move which culminated with a powerful Nouble shot from a very tight angle being blocked at the near post by Ward. Shortly after, cutting a path across the edge of the penalty area, Nouble unleashed another piledriver, to be blocked for a corner by the Exeter City defence.

In response, Matt Taylor made a double substitution, bringing on old friend Brennan Dickenson and Tom Parkes for Jack Sparkes and Dean Moxey respectively. McGreal countered, swapping Luke Norris for leading goal scorer Theo Robinson, and then tigerish Tom Lapslie for Ben Stevenson in midfield.

On 81 minutes the U’s finally got the lead that to be honest they barely deserved. A free-kick was awarded out on the far right hand side of the Exeter City penalty area, and up stepped Cohen Bramall. Exeter City ‘keeper Ward really should have been better prepared for what was to come, after Bramall’s first half effort, but Bramall’s whipped shot into his near post side caught him out, and all he could do was palm the shot into the net for a goal to the U’s, and a slender 1-0 home leg advantage in the play-off semi-final.

[b]Colchester United 1 (Cohen Bramall 81’) Exeter City 0[/b]

I’ll be honest, despite the victory, I was never certain we’d get through to the play-off final, and the second leg at St James’ Park four days later confirmed my fears. After Exeter took a 2-0 lead, Courtney Senior grabbed the U’s a lifeline on 78 minutes to take the game to extra time 2-2 on aggregate, but that man Bowman again broke U’s hearts grabbing the winner on six minutes into the second half of extra time.

Exeter progressed to the final, to face Northampton Town, who had finished 4th in the play-off slots. However, league form wasn’t reflected in this match, with Exeter City comprehensively taken apart by the Cobblers, who won promotion with a 4-0 victory.

Incidentally, perennial relegation botherers Stevenage escaped a thoroughly deserved demotion back to non-league due to the financial plight of Bury Town, after they went bust and were expelled from the Football league. Maybe finally this season that’s going to catch up with Stevenage?

[b]The highlights video is still on YouTube, for those who can bring themselves to watch it[/b]

Up the U’s!

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When Saturday Comes #36 by wessex_exile
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