U's boss Geraint Williams may be keeping up a valiant air of defiance when it comes to that impending drop to League One; when it comes to Jamie Cureton, however, there was an air of resignation to his comments.
“It's what Jamie does,” said 'George', after watching his former hitman bang three large nails into Colchester's Championship coffin this weekend with his first-ever hat-trick for the Canaries in Saturday's 5-1 defeat.
Having watched the 32-year-old smash home two hat-tricks for his U's side last season en route to claiming the Championship's coveted 'Golden Boot' award with that 24-goal haul, Williams knew exactly what to expect. After all, at one stage last season Colchester looked capable of stealing a place in the play-offs on the back of Cureton's goals.
Albeit with the better part of ?1 million stashed in the bank, without those 24-goals the Essex side have never been able to paper over the cracks left by a less-than-watertight defence. Couple that to a horrific run of luck injury-wise – Kevin Lisbie being the latest – and League One surely beckons.
The fact that it was old-boy Cureton with hammer and nails in hand this weekend all just made for another difficult day at the office for the likeable Williams.
“He did it more for us than anybody else last year, and we knew if you let Jamie Cureton get chances he's going to score,” said the U's chief. “We did allow him chances and he duly obliged, so it's no surprise to us at all. What we had to do is stop him getting the chances – and we didn't.”
It could have been worse. He could have bagged a fourth off the bar following Dion Dublin's outrageous second-half lob, while Johnnie Jackson's horror back pass almost gave Cureton a fifth only for Dean Gerken's legs to intervene.
“He got the chances and he finished them,” said U's skipper Jackson afterwards.
“That was a big difference on the day, I suppose we probably four or five good goal-scoring opportunities ourselves but only scored one so that tells a tale. We're having to work hard for our goals and the other teams are not having to work so hard to score against us at the moment.”
The Us midfielder was honest enough to admit that when the home side turned up the heat after the interval, there was little left in the tank; that soul-destroying mid-week effort against a flying Hull side may have finally taken its toll as Colchester found themselves running on empty – and running out of both games and points as the season draws to a close.
“I just think second half we were out-played really,” said Jackson. “We've had a lot of chances and we haven't taken them; we haven't defended well enough.
“Any time you concede five goals it's not good enough; against sides like this with decent strikers they're going to punish you – and that's what they did today. We can't expect to pick up points when we concede goals like that.”
The U's now travel to West Bromwich Albion next week knowing that the maths is stacked heavily against them. Now 11 points off safety with just six points to go, defeat at The Hawthorns could leave them 14 points adrift with just 15 points available.
The bell is beginning to toll as Williams looked back on a game that, in his eyes, summed up the Essex side's season.
“To be fair I think the whole game encapsulated our season, we created good chances at one end, played alright from box to box but conceded five goals at the other end and had a player limp off injured so I think that's our season so far,” said Williams, with goal-scorer Lisbie being the one to make the traditional early exit.
He wasn't about to give up the good fight; no sign of a towel being thrown in from the blue and white corner.
“Between now and the end of the season there's six games to go and a lot of pride and points to play for,” he said.
“Every time we cross that white line representing Colchester United, there's a job to be done. I thought our fans turned up today in numbers and their support – as it has been all year away from home – was magnificent and they kept with the players.
“There was a lot of good effort as there always is from our players but quality-wise we haven't been good enough all year and that was the case again today.”
With such influential players as Teddy Sheringham and Mark Yeates among the injured, Williams tried to tweak his team; tried to give City boss Glenn Roeder something different to think about. But try as he might to tactically spring a surprise, the quality just wasn't there.
As good – and as timely – as Jon Otsemobor's goal was from a Norwich point-of-view, from the U's side of the fence, the City full-back ran a long, long way with the ball at his feet; the closest thing to a tackle came from Darel Russell as his City team-mate hurried out of his path on the edge of the Colchester box.
“All we did was, because we didn't have any natural width on the right, we gave Medy Elito the job to get wide on the left hand side, we had the three in midfield – Kem Izzet, Johnnie Jackson and Dean Hammond – Clive Platt up front and Kevin Lisbie was just playing off him, stopping their left hand side and working the right channel up that side. So it was a tweaked 4-4-2 if you like, or a 4-3-3 or even a 4-5-1,” explained Williams, his best-laid plans wholly undone once Otsemobor picked up the ball with six minutes on the clock.
“There's little things that decide games,” said Williams. “Again we set out to be positive from the start today, and we started OK, but the first shot on goal we concede.
“It's something we've done too often, we then got back in the game at 2-1, and thought right, now we're going to be positive in the second-half. What happens? Seven minutes later we concede the penalty and it's 3-1,” added the U's chief as Phil Ifil clipped Matty Pattison deep in the Colchester box. Given that it was Ifil who left the Layer Road side to face Hull with ten men for the better part of 75 minutes in mid-week, he's hardly helped the cause.
“We're chasing the game and still create more opportunities – as well as concede them because Norwich had good chances to make it bigger. And by the end of the game we're on our last legs physically and mentally, and conceded two late goals,” said Williams.
“The result was a bit hard to take but you have to say Norwich played well, they created chances and we didn't defend well enough. And as I said earlier, that really has been the story of our season.”
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