REPORT FROM COLCHESTER SITE
Christie's Fireworks Blow The U's Away
The U's unbeaten run came to a abrupt halt on Friday evening as Mansfield's Iyseden Christie provided the fireworks with a four goal salvo, blasting the struggling Stags to a 4-2 win.
An explosive first half saw five goals fly into the net, but the U's faded badly in the second half after the home striker added to a first half hat-trick. And a truly disappointing evening was worsened ten minutes from time when Alan White was dismissed for two yellow cards.
At 1-1 and 3-2, the U's had a chance of getting something from the game but with manager Steve Whitton hoping for a bright start to the second forty-five minutes, his side offered little after the interval and were left wondering what might have been.
It capped an awful day for the U's, one overshadowed by the collapse of the Sam Stockley transfer deal. The U's phones had been buzzing all day as Chief Executive Marie Partner tried to rescue the wing-back's switch to Layer Road in time for Friday's match, but both the club and the player would have to wait and see if he was to appear in a U's shirt in the future.
With the impressive 25-year-old unavailable for selection, Whitton had a selection headache to consider as the team made the trip up the A1 to Mansfield during Friday afternoon. Having considered his options, he opted to bring Leke Odunsi into midfield, with Marc Canham taking the Millwall loanee's place on the bench.
Having impressed after coming on as substitute on Tuesday night, Pat Baldwin retained his place in the heart of defence with Danny Steele dropping onto the bench after his sending off in that match. It was Baldwin's first league start, having previously also made a substitute appearance against Port Vale and a full appearance in the Worthington Cup against Coventry City.
As with most parts of the country, Nottinghamshire had experienced a lot of rain during the day and the pitch appeared to be sodden, especially on the side of the ground where the U's managerial staff were to watch the game. Twice in the first couple of minutes a long ball died on the first bounce and the conditions could prove crucial as the game wore on.
Although they had the best of the early pressure, there was a setback for Mansfield with just five minutes on the clock. Experienced winger Scott Sellars took a heavy knock to his ankle and had to be replaced by Neil MacKenzie. However, they overcame that problem and continued to pin the U's back in their own half. With ten minutes on the clock, Whitton's men had barely forward to trouble Kevin Pilkington in the Stags goal.
After a brief spell of U's possession, the home side came back into the game and pressed their visitors back once again. Colchester failed to clear a corner and Iyseden Christie's whipped cross shot was missed by the head of Colin Little. And Christie had a great chance after a mistake by the U's defence, but having burst clear of Alan White he fired his shot straight at Simon Brown.
Christie and fellow midfielder Craig Disley were proving to be the U's main tormentors in the first twenty minutes and the pressure gave the home side the goal they were looking for on twenty minutes. It was Disley who put the ball into the box and Christie snuck in unmarked to head past Brown into the far corner. It was the home side's first goal at Field Mill for over five hours of football.
The U's reacted brightly to the setback, however, and after Kevin Rapley's low cross was hacked to safety, the visitors put together some great build up down the left flank, only to see Joe Keith's run halted at the end.
And they were given a lifeline four minutes after the home goal when Scott McGleish was felled in the box. The home support felt that McGleish had taken a dive after being put through by Kem Izzet on 24 minutes, but Joe Keith silenced the boos with a thunderous spot kick which gave Pilkington no chance as it rocketed into the top of the net.
That lead was to last less than a minute, as a long ball from the back caught the U's defence flatfooted. Christie was again the man in the right place at the right time and he lofted a cute header over the backpedalling Simon Brown. Brown got fingertips to the ball, but could only push it into the net as the home side regained the lead.
It was proving to be a lively first half and Colchester came agonisingly close to again drawing level. Kevin Rapley burst past two Stags defenders and, just as the home defence regained their position, he crashed in a shot which rocketed back off the cross bar to safety.
That miss was to prove crucial – again in just under a minute – when star of the show Iyseden Christie completed his hatrick on the half hour mark. Confusion reigned after a corner from the right and the Stags player reacted quicked to crack in a low shot past the helpless Brown.
But that was not to be the end of the scoring in what was proving to be a topsy turvy clash. The Mansfield defence had conceded forty goals in their fourteen league games ahead of the Friday night clash and their weaknesses again came to the fore two minutes after their third goal. Rapley was given a split second inside the box from a through ball and made no mistake to lift it over Pilkington and into the net.
The popular U's striker celebrated his second of the season in due fashion, before coming over to the stand behind the dugouts to acknowledge the watching Sam Stockley. Having been on a seventeen game goal drought a week ago, Rapley now had two goals in a week.
Mansfield boss Stuart Watkiss had seen enough from his stretched back line and opted to make another change with 35 minutes gone. Former Ipswich Town defender Tony Vaughan was the man on whom the blame appeared to have been pinned, and he made way for the Stags' October Player of the Month, Jamie Clarke.
But the U's attacks continued to flow and they came close to drawing level on 39 minutes. A cross from the right met the leaping Kem Izzet and his flicked header forced a full length save from Pilkington. Having been cruising at 3-1, the home side now appeared to be somewhat rattled with loose passes suddenly the order of the day.
The linesman on the near side of the pitch had been under pressure from Watkiss for – in his opinion – having let a couple of U's fouls go, but was soon praising the man with a flag for a crucial decision on the stroke of half time. A Bobby Bowry cross was headed into the danger area by White and Rapley reacted quickest to dive and head the ball home.
But, as had happened on Tuesday, officials intervened and linesman Mr Richardson raised his flag to cut short the U's striker's celebrations. It was the last action of an extremely eventful first half and, although they were only a goal down, Whitton would have been looking for his troops to be tighter at the back after the interval.
However, Christie carried on where he had left off at the end of the first half, curling a shot just over the bar on 47 minutes. He clearly had the fire in his belly after a first half hat-trick but, in the search for a fourth, saw the ball end up in the stand.
The first booking of the game came shortly afterwards after a foul on Kem Izzet by Mansfield's Lee Williamson. A second yellow followed for Little on 54 minutes as he took a tumble in the box under a challenge from White – something referee Mr Webb adjudged to be a dive. Sandwiched between those two bookings, the home side nearly extended their lead as Disley's shot was palmed around the post by Simon Brown.
The referee was again at the heart of the action as White became the third player to go into the book in the first ten minutes of the second half. The troublesome Christie went down as he turned the U's defender and White's foul was enough to persuade Mr Webb he should join Williamson and Little to have his name taken.
After a flat start to the second half, it was time for a change from the Colchester management. Justin Richards – who had just four minutes of league football with the U's ahead of tonight's game – replaced Kevin Rapley, whilst Dean Morgan took over from Scott McGleish.
It was a decision that almost paid instant dividends. A cross into the box found Morgan, whose first shot hit a defender before he lay the ball across the six yard box. Richards reacted quickester with a diving header, which was blocked on the line and cleared to safety.
And that miss proved costly as the Stags extended their lead on 62 minutes. A through ball saw White and dangerman Christie go one on one towards the U's goal. Simon Brown hesitated to come off his line and clear up the danger and, although he saved the first shot, Christie reacted quickest to tuck home his and Mansfield's fourth of the game.
With two relatively inexperienced strikers on the pitch, could the U's get back into the game? It was Morgan's 52nd appearance in a Colchester shirt – although only ten had been starts – whilst Richards had only three league starts to his game. Both would have to make a big impact on the game if they were to salvage a point.
However, the visitors were rattled at this stage and it was their turn to give away possession cheaply. Bobby Bowry, so instrumental in many of the U's good performances this season was guilty on a couple of occasions of loose passes and the back four were having to firefight to prevent a Stags fifth.
Not that the home side had any lack of opportunity to do so. Disley had had a driven shot soar over the bar before, on 71 minutes, he was unlucky to see a toe poked shot slip wide of the near post. To be fair to the Mansfield man, he was always stretching to Christie's whipped effort.
Although the second half had started badly for the U's, they had lost their way since the substitutions, with Morgan and Richards unable to get a foot on the ball. Time and time again, when the ball was played forwards, the youngsters were too far apart and the visiting defence found themselves under constant pressure.
In contrast, Mansfield attacked in numbers, with Christie sniffing for a match-winning fifth. He was playing with the confidence of a man who had scored four goals and with the midfield peppering the U's boxes with numerous crosses, it seemed that he may well be given a golden opportunity to do so.
An awful evening got worse for Steve Whitton with ten minutes left. White slid in to get the ball on the halfway line and it appeared at first he had won the ball. Christie went up in the air as a result of the challenge and referee pulled out his book once again. He booked the Colchester defender for the second time in the game and he had to make the long walk to the dressing rooms, much to the delight of the majority of the 3,414 crowd.
The game seemed to have slipped away from the U's now and, in an attempt to restrict the damage, Whitton took off the quiet and ineffectual Odunsi and replaced him with Danny Steele in the back line. The young centre-half would have to be on his toes for the remaining ten minutes as the home side dominated possession and continued to press for an 'icing on the cake' fifth.
It was a fifth booking that would come first, however, as Richards was the latest name to be taken by Mr Webb after a lunging tackle on Neil Moore. And he would be reminded of the awards available in football when Stuart Watkiss made a substitution on the stroke of full time. Four goal hero Christie was given the chance to receive the accolades of the crowd as he was replaced by Danny Bacon.
Unsurprisingly, he was awarded the Man of the Match accolade and it would leave Steve Whitton with plenty to consider over the weekend ahead of a home game against Bristol City.
U's: Brown, Keith, Stockwell, White, Baldwin, Pinault, Bowry, Odunsi (Steele), Izzet, McGleish (Richards), Rapley (Morgan).
Subs: McKinney, Canham.
Latest | November 2002