Pre-season friendly

CRYSTAL Palace may have brought the Premier League class with them to Colchester United but the hosts delivered quality of their own in a good pre-season workout for the U’s.

Last season’s beaten FA Cup finalists gave John McGreal’s men a test at both ends of the pitch and Jordan Mutch’s early goal proved the winner for the top-flight side.

However, the U’s more than held their own and could leave the pitch feeling disappointed not to have at least been level in terms of goals.

U’s boss McGreal employed a 4-4-2 formation, with Doug Loft and Tom Lapslie, who was handed the captain’s armband, working tigerishly in midfield and Chris Porter and Sammie Szmodics in partnership at the top end of the field.

Palace, meanwhile, started the game with a strong line-up, featuring five of the players who started the FA Cup final against Manchester United at the end of last season.

It was a bright start by both sides on an immaculately prepared Weston Homes Community Stadium pitch as both looked to get on the front foot early.

Colchester went close from a well-worked short corner routine that opened a chance for Doug Loft and his fierce shot from an acute angle could only be parried by Palace keeper Alex McCarthy.

However, no-one in a blue and white striped shirt was on hand to turn in the loose ball and the ball was eventually cleared.

The visitors also showed attacking intent, though, and England winger Andros Townsend displayed early Premier League class with a deft back heel that almost unlocked the U’s defence.

They survived that scare but the opening goal did come in the ninth minute when interplay between former Colchester schoolboy and Ipswich Town striker Connor Wickham and Jason Puncheon saw the ball laid back into the path of the onrushing Jordon Mutch.

Sam Walker was given little chance as Mutch side-footed the ball past him and into the top corner of the net.

With their one-goal lead, Palace looked comfortable in possession, as was to be expected from a Premier League side, and pressed down both flanks, but Colchester’s back four managed to repel them effectively.

And the hosts also began to look more composed on the ball as they strung together some decent passages of play.

A lovely piece of skill from Sammie Szmodics, still buoyant after scoring a hat-trick at Chelmsford City a few days before, allowed him to loft the ball in to Chris Porter, but his header back into a dangerous position was cleared before Doug Loft could crash it home.

It was a sign of Colchester growing in confidence and they rattled the woodwork from a 23rd minute corner routine as first Chris Porter’s header slammed against the right-hand upright, before Alex Wynter’s follow-up effort was cleared off the line.

The side netting was then rippled as Loft fired in a low free-kick from just outside the area and the same player drilled an effort into McCarthy’s midrift as the U’s broke well.

Play became a bit more disjointed from both sides as the game drifted into half-time, but Palace emerged with purpose after the break.

Boss Alan Pardew replaced Wickham with Frazier Campbell in attack and the visitors almost doubled their lead within minutes of the restart.

Smart play down the U’s right opened the chance for Yannick Bolasie to break into the box and a well-struck effort forced Walker into an equally smart save at his near post.

Goalmouth action became a bit scarce over the next period of the game, but Colchester almost drew level in the 66th minute.

Porter managed to work some space in the Palace box and got the ball to Szmodics, who tried to place his shot across McCarthy but the U’s striker pushed it just past the post.

Wholesale substitutions by both sides did little to help the flow of the game as it entered its final 20 minutes but Colchester kept pressing for an equaliser.

Clear-cut chances were a rarity, but they did have a wonderful opportunity in the final minute.

The ball fell to Tom Eastman in the box but he blazed it high over the bar with the goal gaping as Palace held on to their slender lead.

COLCHESTER UNITED: Starting XI: Sam Walker, Richard Brindley, Lewis Kinsella, Tom Lapslie, Luke Prosser, Drey Wright, Doug Loft, Chris Proter, Sammie Szmodics, Brennan Dickenson, Alex Wynter.

Subs: Dillon Barnes, Denny Johnstone, Tom Eastman, Dion Sembie-Ferris, Owen Garvan, Craig Slater, Kurtis Guthrie, Frankie Kent, Kane Vincent-Young, Macauley Bonne.

Subs not used: George Elokobi, Michael O’Donoghue.

CRYSTAL PALACE: Starting XI: Alex McCarthy, Joel Ward, Scott Dann, Damien Delaney, Zeki Fryers, Hiram Boateng, Jordan Mutch, Jason Puncheon, Yannick Bolasie, Andros Townsend, Connor Wickham.

Subs: Frazier Campbell, Mile Jedinak, Sully Kaikai, Lee Chung-Yong, Martin Kelly, Luke Croll, Jacob Berkley-Agyepong, Jerome Binnom-Williams, Freddie Ladapo.

Subs not used: Kleton Perntreou, Ben Wynter.