Colchester United 1-0 Exeter City
CLEVER OR LUCKY? make up your own mind, but Cohen Bramall’s late angled free-kick handed Colchester United a priceless advantage in an otherwise tight Sky Bet League Two play-off, first-leg tie with Exeter City at the JobServe Community Stadium.
Firstly, I think it is hugely important to chronicle this bizarre period in the games’ history. Of course, as ever I feel enormously privileged to take my place in the pressbox for Yellow Sport. But with those most important to Colchester United unfairly denied by this cruel pandemic, I believe it is my responsibility to document just how much they, and indeed football enthusiasts everywhere, are missed.
For those unfamiliar with the stadium, the media area is situated in close quarters to the fans. We share their unharmonious joy when Colchester win, their utter despair in defeat. I often sit here deep in thought when a gentleman seated to our left irately advises John McGreal on what he believes is an ill-advised substitution as the U’s desperately chase a game – He passionately believes he is right – I mean, we are all football fans – we all know best, don’t we?
But for now, we have to make do with the echoing cries of the players, McGreal’s booming Scouse brogue and the sound of the traffic hurtling past on the adjacent A12. Let’s be honest, that will never replicate the vital twelfth man, not now, not ever!
Nevertheless, in the meantime, the show must go on. Unbeknown to Colchester at the time, they secured their play-off berth with a narrow victory at Carlisle United some three months ago.
More than one hundred days of uncertainty and heated debate followed before we arrived at this imperfect moment in time. Whether the beautiful game ever full recovers remains to be seen, the phrase ‘make do and mend’ has been clasped from its mothballed state and tossed our way during the global soap operas’ latest episode. But we had a game and an opportunity to provide hope that normality is a small step closer.
As expected, cagy, competitive and a bit scrappy would be the best way to describe the opening stages where chances came at a premium. Aaron Martin nodded over and skipper Jake Taylor was blocked as Exeter probed for an opening – Bramall’s dipping dead-ball effort testing Lewis Ward as the U’s responded.
But toil as they might, neither side appeared brave enough in the final third. Colchester’s bustling frontman, Frank Nouble, often left too isolated, while the option of width, often provided by the overlapping Bramall and Ryan Jackson, was notably lacking as the home side seemed content to go with resolve over imagination.
Courtney Senior blazed over, while Luke Norris was unable to direct Harry Pell’s centre goalwards as the U’s looked to up the ante after the restart. Meanwhile, Matt Jay’s free-kick brushed the side netting as Exeter served notice of their own intentions, albeit tentatively.
Bramall’s route to goal was blocked following a flowing move involving Norris and Nouble – the latter then denied from a ridiculously acute angle by Ward.
The introduction of their leading marksman, Theo Robinson, suggested a more direct approach from John McGreal’s side. However, when the U’s broke finally broke the deadlock, it was an unfamiliar source who provided it.
Bramall directed a free-kick from the right towards the near post – Ward, scrambling from no man’s land only serving to help the ball on its way into the net.
I’m sure the joy and relief were felt in front of televisions all over North Essex – A valuable advantage gleaned so late in the contest.
Colchester United will play Exeter City at St James Park in the Sky Bet League Two semi-final, second leg on Monday, June 22 (5:15pm)
Colchester United: Dean Gerken, Ryan Jackson, Cohen Bramall, Luke Prosser (Capt), Courtney Senior (Luke Gambin 68’), Harry Pell, Luke Norris (Theo Robinson 77’), Tom Eastman, Ben Stevenson (Tom Lapslie 77’), Frank Nouble, Kwame Poku (Paris Cowan-Hall 89’) Subs not used: Ethan Ross (GK), Omar Sowunmi, Miles Welch-Hayes, Ryan Clampin, Connor Chilvers
Booked: Harry Pell (foul)
Goals: Cohen Bramall 81’
Exeter City: Lewis Ward, Pierce Sweeney, Nigel Atangana, Aaron Martin, Lee Martin (Matt Jay 41’), Nicky Law (Archie Collins 68’), Randell Williams, Ryan Bowman, Dean Moxey (Tom Parkes 77’), Jack Sparkes (Brennan Dickenson 77’), Jake Taylor (Capt) Subs not used: Jonny Maxted (GK), Fisher, Jayden Richardson, Joel Randall, Ben Seymore
Booked: Nicky Law (foul)
Referee: Joshua Smith
Assistants: Michael Webb and Anthony Da Costa
Fourth Official: Christopher Pollard
Reaction to follow…