Baldwin wants an Essex one-two

COLCHESTER United defender Pat Baldwin, who is back in favour after a frustrating few months, believes that the U's will never have a better chance to win promotion.

COLCHESTER United defender Pat Baldwin, who is back in favour after a frustrating few months, believes that the U's will never have a better chance to win promotion, writes Carl Marston.

Phil Parkinson's men will surge into the top two, and the second of the two automatic promotion spots, if they can beat on-song Bristol City at Layer Road this evening.

The U's are in irresistible form at the moment. They chalked up their 14th win from their last 16 games at Walsall on Saturday to cement their position in the play-off zone.

The Essex club have been a permanent fixture in the top six since early December, but tonight they have a chance to join local rivals Southend in the top two.

“This is my fourth season at Colchester, and this is the best squad that we've had since I've been here,” insisted Baldwin, who starred in the U's 2-0 win at the Bescot Stadium.

“I feel that we can stay up here and compete. I think that we have our best chance of promotion this season, at least through the play-offs, if not automatic promotion.

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“We have been doing so well, but this week is a very big week, with two home games against Bristol City and Port Vale.

“It's a good opportunity for us to make further progress. However, Bristol City are still a massive club. They had a dreadful start to the season, but they have really picked up of late,” added Baldwin.

Saturday's successful trip to Walsall coincided with Baldwin's first league start for four months, an incredible statistic when considered that the 23-year-old was the U's player-of-the-year last season, and has not been injured. Baldwin has had to play second fiddle to both Wayne Brown and Liam Chilvers, alternating games on the bench with fellow back-up Garry Richards.

Former Chelsea trainee Baldwin was finally handed a rare outing at Sheffield United in the FA Cup, due to Chilvers' one-match ban for accruing five bookings. Chilvers was set to return to the team at Walsall, only to suffer an injury in training on Friday, so Baldwin kept his place.

“It's been frustrating for me this season. I was the player-of-the-year last season, so it's been terribly disappointing not to be playing regularly,” admitted Baldwin. “I wasn't at my best at the start of this season, but on a personal note, it's great to be back in the side. However, I have no idea how long I will keep my place!

“All I can do now is continue to play well, and give 100% every match. I feel that I did OK at Walsall, especially as they put us under the cosh for a lot of the afternoon.

“It was an ugly sort of game. But they are the sort of games that we need to be winning, if we want to get promoted. It was a great result,” added Baldwin.

London-born Baldwin, who arrived at Layer Road on a free transfer from Chelsea during the summer of 2002, will be hoping to retain his place again tonight. It would be his 87th senior league and cup appearance.

The U's have been enjoying a remarkable last three months. They have only suffered one defeat in their last 17 matches, and that was to an injury-time goal at lowly Swindon in a 1-0 defeat on Boxing Day.

Parkinson's super-confident squad have recently faced a gruelling schedule, which has included eight away games in their last 10 fixtures. They have tasted victories at such testing places as Hartlepool, Brentford and Sheffield United.

And they have been just as devastating at Layer Road, winning their last six home games on the bounce. Injury-time goals from Mark Yeates and Richard Garcia secured a 3-1 win over Nottingham Forest, who were the last visitors to this part of north Essex.

Front-runner Garcia was struggling with the after-effects of a trapped nerve in the top of his hamstring, during the win at Walsall, so he faces a late fitness test. Chilvers is also a doubt.

New signing Tony Thorpe, recruited on a short-team deal until the end of the season, watched his new team-mates power to victory from the Press Box at Walsall on Saturday.

The 31-year-old will be hoping to make the bench for at least one of the U's two home games this week.

Tonight's squads

COLCHESTER UNITED: Davison, Duguid, Baldwin, Brown, White, Halford, Watson, Danns, Yeates, Iwelumo, Garcia, Williams, Izzet, Richards, Elokobi, Stockley, Chilvers, Thorpe and Gerken.

BRISTOL CITY: Basso, Orr, Heywood, Carey, Woodman, Cotterill, Noble, Russell, Murray, Brooker, Savage, Stewart, Wilkshire, Skuse, Phillips and Smith.

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