Baldwin vows to keep on fighting

COLCHESTER United defender, Pat Baldwin is fearful of being “left behind” in the fight to stay in the Championship.The U's face a daunting test at promotion-chasing Charlton this afternoon, hoping that 2008 begins in a better way than 2007 ended.

By Carl Marston

COLCHESTER United defender, Pat Baldwin is fearful of being “left behind” in the fight to stay in the Championship.

The U's face a daunting test at promotion-chasing Charlton this afternoon, hoping that 2008 begins in a better way than 2007 ended.

Geraint Williams' men are four points adrift of safety, so they must start picking up points soon, otherwise they will be hopelessly marooned at the foot of the table with no hope of Championship survival.

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“We must be careful that we don't get left behind, otherwise this will turn into a nothing season for us,” admitted Baldwin.

“We were very disappointed to lose to Blackpool (2-0 on Saturday). We should be winning these sort of games, playing at home against a team who have just got promoted.

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“But we weren't at the races. There's no excuses. We conceded two more sloppy goals, and that's been a problem for us all season. We haven't defended well, which is why we are in this position.

“But there's no point in feeling sorry for ourselves. We have to pick ourselves up against Charlton. We must keep fighting right to the end, I know that I will,” added Baldwin.

Ex-Chelsea trainee Baldwin believes that all the upheaval of last summer, with the mass exodus of players, has hindered the U's cause in their second season in the Championship.

Jamie Cureton, Chris Iwelumo, Richard Garcia, Chris Barker and Wayne Brown all departed, to be replaced by the likes of Clive Platt, Teddy Sheringham, Mark Yeates, Luke Guttridge and Danny Granville. Defenders Matthew Connolly and Adam Virgo have also had loan spells at Layer Road. “The changes have not helped. Different sorts of characters have come in, and it's taken time for the new lads to settle,” explained Baldwin.

“They were massive changes last summer. Any club would have suffered with so many players coming in and out.

“However, we should be doing better and we still believe that we can stay up,” added Baldwin.

London-born Baldwin has played more games than any other U's defender this season. In fact, he has only missed one fixture, the 1-0 defeat at Wolves on November 28.

Whereas last season he formed a regular centre-half partnership with Brown, this term he has had a number of different partners, including Connolly, Virgo and Bela Balogh.

Arsenal loanee Connolly will return to the Emirates Stadium tomorrow, because the Gunners have exercised their right to recall him, and manager Williams confirmed that the 20-year-old would play no part in today's game. However, Virgo's loan spell from Celtic, which expired yesterday, has been extended until the end of the season.

Williams revealed: “Adam (Virgo) will be with us until the end of the season, and I have bids for other players on the table, although it's too early to say whether anything will come of them.”

The U's squad will be boosted by the return of Kem Izzet, who has missed the last two games with a dislocated and badly cut thumb, sustained during the 2-1 defeat at QPR before Christmas.

“Kem's stitches have been taken out, and so it's a case of just strapping up the thumb,” confirmed Williams.

This is not the time of year to look for encouragement in statistics, if you are a Colchester fan.

The Essex club have won just one of their last 14 fixtures, amounting to a mere eight points collected from a possible 42, and they have only kept one clean-sheet all season.

They have the worst defensive record in the division, with 44 goals conceded in 25 matches, and have notched fewer wins (just four) than anyone else.

The one clean-sheet arrived with a 3-0 win at Preston at the end of August, a distant four months and 22 games ago.

By contrast, hosts Charlton are in the play-off zone and gunning for an immediate return to the Premier League, after suffering relegation last season.

Alan Pardew's men have stuttered of late, and are without a win in four games, following the 3-1 home success over Ipswich on December 8.

Their last three fixtures have all ended in 1-1 draws, against Hull and away at Norwich and Leicester.

Former Ipswich midfielder Darren Ambrose is set to return to the Addicks squad, after missing a couple of games with a groin injury, although skipper Andy Reid, who is the club's leading scorer with seven goals, remains on the sidelines with knee ligament damage. Centre-half Sam Sodje is suspended, so Jonathan Fortune should partner Paddy McCarthy at the heart of defence. Ex-Leicester skipper McCarthy scored a last-minute equaliser against his old club at the Walkers Stadium on Saturday.

Target man Chris Iwelumo, recruited from Colchester last summer, is Charlton's leading marksman with nine goals, to add to the 37 goals he bagged in his two seasons at Layer Road.

Today's squads

CHARLTON ATHLETIC: Weaver, Bougherra, Fortune, McCarthy, Powell, Thomas, Semedo, Zhi, Holland, Varney, Iwelumo, Ambrose, McLeod, Racon, Sam, Randolph, Dickson.

COLCHESTER UNITED: Gerken, Duguid, Baldwin, Virgo, Granville, Yeates, Jackson, Izzet, McLeod, Platt, Lisbie, Sheringham, Guy, Guttridge, Balogh, Elokobi, White, Cousins.

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