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When Saturday Comes #36
Written by wessex_exile on Saturday, 30th Apr 2022 21:26

[i]When Saturday Comes[/i] tomorrow, and I will be on a train heading over to God’s own county for my last U’s game of the season. That should have been last Friday’s trip to the Principality, but as posted elsewhere I was more than happy to be pre-booked to dog-sit Emma’s collie Reggie that night and had to be content with one of Nadine’s ‘downstreams’ on iFollow. Given both the performance and the result, whilst I was sorry to miss it in person, I was more than happy with how Friday night turned out in the end. Tomorrow will be a gathering of the clans for us, with at the last count at least 8, possibly more, of the family gathering for the match. Ironically, I’ll see them all again on Bank Holiday Monday for a family birthday, but I’ll be driving over for that one.

[b]TWTWTW[/b]
Until Putin gets the f’ck out of Ukraine, it will sadly continue to dominate world affairs. This week, Russian attention appears to have returned to focus on the capital Kyiv, with cruise missiles reportedly fired at the capital, perhaps not coincidentally whilst being visited by UN Secretary General António Guterres. Putin had always planned to sweep into Kyiv in the early days of the invasion to remove the democratically elected government as soon as possible. Clearly underestimating the courage and determined resolve of the Ukrainian forces (and people), that plan faltered, stagnated and eventually appeared to be abandoned a month ago. It is unclear whether these attacks signal a new Kyiv offensive, or simply a cheap shot aimed at the UN Secretary General, remains to be seen.

…and whilst we focus elsewhere, and despite the progress reported last week in the control of Covid, China has reintroduced lockdown measures in Beijing and Shanghai this week. Often considered to be the country of origin for the disease, China has always followed a zero-tolerance approach to Covid-19. Shanghai is facing an estimated 10,000 new cases daily and has ordered its 25 million residents to stay in their homes or immediate neighbourhoods for the foreseeable. In Beijing, schools have been closed, targeted lockdowns imposed on some residential buildings, and a mass testing exercise has been rolled out.


[b]© Art Sputnik Rat[/b]

Sleaze allegations and the Conservative party seem to be going hand in hand these days – no pun intended! In what has been described as a “[i]highly charged[/i]” meeting of Conservative backbenchers on Tuesday night, female Tory MPs shared accounts of alleged sexism and harassment by their male colleagues. These allegations include one claim (from two separate sources) that a male Tory MP repeatedly watched pornography on his mobile phone whilst in the House of Commons. The Chief Whip Chris Heaton-Harris has urged witnesses to refer any allegations to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme. The Mirror’s political editor Pippa Crerar reports that at present 56 MPs are facing various allegations of sexual misconduct.

[b]U’s World[/b]
Voting has now closed for the various Colchester United player of the season awards. In a nice throwback to days of yore, the winners to be announced when the team returns to the pitch after the Walsall game has finished tomorrow. I am dependant on a lift back to North Station post-match however, so how much of that I get to see, who knows.

Up for grabs are the following:
[b]Hospital Radio Player of the Year
CUSA Away Player of the Year
CUSA Player of the Year
Goal of the Season[/b] (my vote Tchamadeu)
[b]Young Player of the Year[/b] (my vote Chilvers)
[b]Players’ Player of the Year
Official Player of the Year[/b] (my vote Skuse)

I’m sure everyone will have their own view on preferred candidates, so I guess if nothing else it is to be celebrated that in a season that has at times been so poor, we still have multiple credible contenders in every category. More so when you consider, for instance, the improvement that Coxe has made as the season has progressed, particularly since Wayne Brown took over. Never likely to be one of the award winners tomorrow, unless they hastily include a “Most Improved” category, having Coxe and players like him is still a massive positive as we head towards summer and the preparation for 2022/23.

Speaking of which, dates have been announced for the new season, which will include a winter break for the Premier League and Championship to accommodate the Qatar World Cup in November and December, as follows:
[b][i]June 16th 2022 - Premier League fixture lists released;
June 23rd 2022 – EFL fixture lists released;
July 30th 2022 – EFL seasons start;
August 6th 2022 – Premier League season starts;
w/c August 8th 2022 – Carabao Cup competition starts;
w/c August 29th 2022 – EFL Trophy competition starts;
November 14th 2022 – Start of World Cup break for Premier League and Championship;
December 10th 2022 – Championship season recommences after World Cup Group Stages;
December 26th 2022 – Premier League season recommences after World Cup final;
February 26th 2023 – Carabao Cup final;
March 19th 2023 – EFL Trophy final;
May 6th 2023 – EFL seasons finish;
May 28th 2023 – Premier League finishes; and
May 27th – 29th 2023 – EFL Play-Off finals.[/i][/b]

And finally, it is fantastic to report that Junior Tchamadeu was rightly awarded the EFL League Two [i]Apprentice of the Year[/i] award at the Grosvenor Hotel awards ceremony during the week. Junior has made so much progress since his debut as a 16-year-old against Grimsby in 2020, with to date over 30 appearances for the U’s first team this season already, not to mention his stunning injury-time winner for the U’s against Tranmere, his first of what I’m sure will be many in a U’s shirt. He clearly is an extremely talented young man, and I only hope we can hold on to him for a few more years to watch him continue to develop.


[b]Well done Junior![/b]

[b]Stat attack[/b]
Walsall have been around in one form or another for a long time. Originally founded in 1888 as Walsall Town Swifts, an amalgamation of Walsall Town and Walsall Swifts, they were admitted to the new Second Division as a founding member in 1892. They dropped out of the league in 1895, and in a896 changed their name to just Walsall Football Club. For the next 20+ years they yo-yoed between the Second Division and the Midland League, before eventually joining the newly formed Third Division North in 1921, again as a founding member.

They have remained in the Football league ever since, with four relatively brief returns to the second tier in that time, the most recent coming to an end with relegation back to League One in 2004, at the time managed by Paul Merson following the April dismissal of Colin Lee. I believe I’m right in saying that their 19th place finish with 53pts last season, one place ahead of the U’s, was their lowest league placing of their history.

Our league record against the Saddlers is about as even as you can get it, played 70 matches, won 25, lost 25, drawn 20. They did of course comprehensively win the Bescot fixture 3-0 earlier this season against a very poor Hayden Mullins side, so the U’s will be keen to avoid them repeating the 2008/09 double they achieved, their most recent since way back in 1974/75.

Back in 1956, when Benny Fenton took his U’s to play at their former ground Fellows Park, the match was watched by a whopping 15,179, and our home game the very next season saw 12,770 jammed into Layer Road. These days, crowds in the order of 3-4k are far more likely, both home and away, and though I think we might struggle to reach 3k tomorrow, we’ll be well ahead of the lowest attendance to date of 1,979 at Layer Road back in 1980.

Our record victory over the Saddlers is a toss-up between Jimmy Allen’s 6-1 victory at Layer Road in 1953, or Phil Parkinson’s 5-0 demolition in 2005. That’s a moot point – 5-0 always feels better to me because you haven’t conceded, but league rules would place 6-1 higher on goals scored. Walsall can claim one 4-0 victory, although this was at Layer Road back in 1961, and a 5-2 at Fellows Park against Jim Smith’s U’s.

For games of note, Tony Humes’ 4-4 draw at the Community Stadium in 2015 will take some beating. Walsall took a first half 2-0 lead through goals from Romaine Sawyers and Milan Lalkovič. George Moncur and Marvin Sordell levelled the scores in less that ten minutes of the second half. Walsall regained the lead just before the hour mark with a goal from George Evans, with Owen Garvan equalising actually on the hour mark. Darren Ambrose then looked to have snatched the winner with only 10 minutes to go, only for James O’Connor to level for the Saddlers in injury-time. Eight goals, eight different goal-scorers, and if you were the defensive coach for either side, an absolute shocker.

[b]Match of the Day
[i]Colchester United v Salford City
Saturday 7th December 2019
Sky Bet League 2 (Tier 4)
Attendance 3,713[/i][/b]

[i]Match of the Day[/i] for this blog, and the random match selector comes virtually right up to date with our December home game against Salford City in the 2019/20 season, our first match against the Class of ’92 new kids on the block. I have to say, with the much-awaited U’s trip to Old Trafford less than two weeks away, and particularly because I’d been out on a works Xmas do the night before, I really was doing well to be off to this one as well, though my bank manager might not agree.

John McGreal’s U’s were at the time pressing for at the very least the play-offs, and even automatic promotion wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility. We hadn’t lost since October and were currently sitting just outside the play-off zone, and only 5pts from automatic promotion. Salford were having a decent first season too, their first in the Football League since their National League promotion via the play-offs and were mid-table just a few places below the U’s. They’d actually already been in 3rd place this season, though that was on the first day after beating Stevenage 2-0 – definitely a case of peaking too soon as it would turn out.

John McGreal’s U’s lined up that afternoon:
1….Dean Gerken
2….Ryan Jackson (4. Tom Lapslie 65’)
3….Cohen Bramall
18..Tom Eastman
5….Luke Prosser (captain)
14..Brandon Comley
8….Harry Pell
49..Kwame Poku (26. Luke Gambin 70’)
7….Courtney Senior
45..Frank Nouble
9….Luke Norris (13. Theo Robinson 81’)

There were a few changes following the EFL Trophy 2-1 defeat at home to Stevenage, with Deano coming in for Ethan Ross in goal, but the biggest surprise was not even seeing Callum Harriott’s name on the bench after starting in that Stevenage game. The rumour was maybe he’d picked up a knock, but McGreal revealed post-match it was simply down to squad rotation (and giving Callum a rest), and his place was taken by Chuck Norris.

Taking my seat up the back of S3, I was delighted to see I was in the company of none other than [b]Noah[/b] and his entourage, so we settled back in a standing repose to enjoy what we hoped would be a reasonably comfortable victory over the new boys. Not so it would turn out – with Salford effectively playing a 5 across the bank, it was clear their primary intention was to stifle the U’s attack, and for large parts of the game they managed it.

In the opening 20 minutes or so, decent chances were almost non-existent. A deep cross from Bramall had the visiting goalkeeper Chris Neal scrambling to hold on to it with Norris lurking. More or less on the 10-minute mark they registered their first effort on goal, a long-range punt which whistled well wide of Gerken’s goal. The U’s returned the compliment a few minutes later, with Senior latching onto to a good head down from Prosser, but he too blazed wide of the post. As the half wore on, Courtney Senior was starting to create real problems for the Ammie’s defence, but it was Gerken who had to be on his toes to drop on a long range deflected shot on the half hour mark.

A few minutes later, a surging run from Senior, twisting and turning through a lethargic Salford midfield, saw him unceremoniously dumped to the ground on the edge of the penalty area for the first yellow card of the match. Bramall lifted his free kick over the wall, but also just over the bar as well. As the U’s continued to press, Nouble turned his marker inside and out, and from the left byline cut back for Poku, but Poku’s curling effort lacked pace and was straight at the ‘keeper. Again Nouble created problems down the left wing, this time pulling it back to Brandon Comley, and his rasping daisy-cutter forced Neal into an inelegant but effective diving block, with the ball ballooning up and away from danger.

And so, Salford City managed to hang on at 0-0 to half time. The U’s really should have been ahead at the break, but a lack of any real penetration up front to get through a determined Salford defence meant we still had a lot to do in the second half. But, playing towards a noisy South Stand, we had to hope the U’s would find a way through. Being the U’s though, we very nearly handed the lead to Salford early in the second half, when a wayward pass across the edge of our own penalty area ran straight to Towell, but he dragged his weak effort wide of the goal.

Still though, a wake-up call for the U’s, and if we needed another one it came just after the hour mark. A speculative long range shot from Towell was blocked by Gerken, and Armstrong tapped in the rebound from close range – how relieved were we to see the linesman’s flag go up for offside. It was impossible to tell from the South Stand, and still not particularly clear on the highlights, but we’d gladly take that decision. To be fair, Armstrong didn’t object too much to the decision, usually a good sign it was the right call.

Finally, the U’s woke from their torpor, and after Norris had flashed a shot from a narrow angle wide, when it was probably a more sensible move to square it into the box, Senior again had the ‘keeper scrambling, but again his effort drifted wide of the post. With Lapslie and Gambin already replacing Jackson and Poku, with ten minutes to go McGreal’s final roll of the dice was to bring on Theo Robinson for Norris.

With a minute to go, chaos in the Salford City penalty area saw a veritable game of ping-pong, but no one in a blue shirt could get their toe on it to poke home. Lapslie particularly was being his usual nuisance self, and deep into injury time fired in a cross that was clearly blocked by the outstretched arms of a Salford City defender. It really should have been the penalty the South Stand were baying for, but the referee inexplicably saw fit to only give the corner. However, from that corner an exquisite back heel flick from Nouble at the near post was met by Harry Pell diving in to head home, and the ground erupted in celebration.

The scenes were chaotic, as supporters and players celebrated a memorable goal to keep our play-off ambitions very much alive. This, THIS is why you should never leave a game early. The momentary gain of getting home a few minutes earlier is wiped from the ledger by missing moments like these when they arrive.

[b]Colchester United 1 (Harry Pell 90+3’) Salford City 0[/b]

The 3pts moved the U’s to within one place and one point of the play-offs, and a point at Scunthorpe and back-to-back wins against Carlisle (h) and Leyton Orient (a) propelled us into those play-offs. Although our form was erratic to say the least from then on, when Covid brought an untimely end to the season we were still, just, in those play-offs.

There is a longer highlights video from Salford City, but bizarrely that doesn’t include Harry Pell’s injury time winner – perhaps Salford City just couldn’t bring themselves to show it. So enjoy the U’s highlight reel, and particularly the emotion shown following Harry’s last ditch goal.

Up the U’s!




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When Saturday Comes #36 by wessex_exile
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