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FA Cup 3rd Round replay: Colchester Utd 2 Accrington Stanley 1

THE FA Cup fairytale might be over - but it was certainly one to remember.

THE FA Cup fairytale might be over - but it was certainly one to remember.

From Andy Gouck's winner against Huddersfield to the penalty shoot-out win over Bournemouth and then the drama of Tuesday night's replay at Colchester. The off-the field incidents have in some ways overshadowed what was a brave performance from the Reds and every single Stanley supporter must be proud of the club.

Not only did the Reds match Second Division Colchester once the players had settled down, but the part-timers came close to battling back despite being reduced to 10 men yet again with Steve Halford's dismissal.

Goal scorer Paul Mullin summed it up. "We are gutted just now - but we have had a cracking cup run. We have played five games against league sides and we haven't disgraced ourselves. We have shown how far the club has come."

Rory Prendergast was stunned Stanley hadn't sealed a fourth round clash at First Division Coventry. "I can't believe it. We have absolutely played out of our skins in both games. But we have missed chances and that has cost us."

And both agreed that if Stanley had got it back to 1-1 after Joe Keith had given Colchester an 11th minute lead, Stanley would have been at Highfield Road. Instead Keith scored a second on 84 minutes and Mullin grabbed a late goal - but it was just a consolation.

"1-1 and we would have won if the game had gone into extra-time," said winger Prendergast. "If we had scored a little bit earlier, I think we would have won," insisted Mullin.

And the Reds had every right to feel aggrieved when referee Phil Joslin failed to give them at least one penalty. Lutel James seemed clearly to have been brought down in the area on 21 minutes by U's keeper Simon Brown.

"We are not whinging about the officials," said Mullin. "But I did think their keeper caught him and it was a penalty. But the decisions didn't go our way and that happens sometimes especially when you are away from home."

Prendergast felt James was hacked down in the area in the second half as well as he tried to create space for himself. "That was a blatant penalty for me," he said.

And these were just two incidents in a game which was action-packed and full of drama. The excitement the game created was shown by the match being delayed 15 minutes because of the fans still piling into Layer Road. And when it did start it was Colchester who came out of the blocks the quickest. Wayne Andrews proved an early problem, chipping over from 10 yards as he put the Reds' defence under pressure.

However, Stanley did have the ball in the back of the net early doors when a Paul Howarth free kick was flicked on by Mullin and Prendergast fired home. "I thought it was a good goal but the referee gave off-side. I didn't think so," said Mullin. However Prendergast admitted he knew it wouldn't count.

"Paul said there wasn't anything wrong with it but I had heard the whistle before I hit hit," said the winger.

And Colchester then went straight to the other end and Craig Fagan's ball from the right to the far post was easy for the unmarked Keith to finish well. Fagan continued to be a threat on the right side but the Reds began to find ways through the U's backline especially with the penalty appeal.

Halford then picked up his first booking on 31 minutes for clipping the heels of the lively Andrews. And the defender then slipped when racing back with Andrews but this time Jon Kennedy, recalled to the starting line-up, came to the rescue, racing out to save his effort with Keith volleying over the loose ball.

However it could have been all-square on the stroke of half time when Howarth got on the end of a Prendergast corner but it was saved on the line.

The incident at half-time involving Reds boss John Coleman - who was sent to sit in the stand - didn't seem to affect the Stanley team. Instead they were inspired and were unlucky after the break. Steve Flitcroft's effort was straight at the keeper, Paul Cook's long range strike was wide and then midfielder Cook nicked the ball off Greg Halford ion 65 minutes but, with both Mullin and James in the area, neither could get a clean shot in.

There was more rumblings in the dug-outs when Kennedy kicked the ball into play with Scott McGleish lying injured but it didn't stop Stanley. Prendergast almost capitalised on a Fitzgerald back header but Brown just got there first and then Calcutt had a superb chance to equalise. The ball came to him unmarked on 74 minutes, he teed it up but it was cleared off the line.

Thomas Pinault then fired wide at the other end before boss Coleman threw on defender Jonathan Smith to make it three up front. And it did seem James had made a breakthrough but his fierce shot in a crowded area hit, of all people, Mullin.

But, on a rare second half venture into the Stanley penalty area, Keith raced forward after a U's free kick and he fired home from a tight angle four minutes from time. Halford then saw red for arguing about the decision - his second bookable offence.

"Steve felt aggrieved, he thought it was off-side but from where I am sitting in the stand, I can't be certain," said Coleman. "But what I do know is that it was a great finish."

But, Stanley are more than used to playing with ten men as it was their ninth sending off this season. And, almost immediately, Smith had a shot from the edge of the area which was just over the crossbar. And Calcutt then provided a great ball in from the right wing which was easy for Mullin to head home from six yards out.

"It was good to get the goal," said Mullin. "I think we deserved something out of the game. We matched them certainly in the second half. We would have liked to go to Coventry but it is not to be. The season's not over yet and we have got a lot to play for - the play-offs are definitely realistic for us."

Coleman added: "Paul Mullin was a thorn in their side in both games and it is just a pity his goal didn't come last week in the goalless draw at our place. If we'd taken our chances, it could have been us."


Stuart Pike
Deputy editor specialising in politics
Alex Bell
Bethany English
District reporter
Beth Abbit
Court reporter
Jon Macpherson
Kate Watkins
Reporter specialising in communities
Garth Dawson
Photographer and columnist