Cardiff defender Barker target for U's

COLCHESTER United are leading the chase to sign left-back Chris Barker from Championship rivals Cardiff City.The Bluebirds need to reduce their wage bill by off-loading two or three players, and Barker is one of those who looks set to leave Ninian Park before the transfer deadline kicks-in at the end of this month.

By Carl Marston

COLCHESTER United are leading the chase to sign left-back Chris Barker from Championship rivals Cardiff City.

The Bluebirds need to reduce their wage bill by off-loading two or three players, and Barker is one of those who looks set to leave Ninian Park before the transfer deadline kicks-in at the end of this month.

Barker was a near ever-present in the Cardiff side last season, but he has been out of contention this term.


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The 26-year-old has been stuck in the Reserves, with little prospect of regaining his first-team place, not least because he is behind Kevin McNaughton and Kerrea Gilbert in City's left-back pecking order.

Former Barnsley defender Barker signed for the Bluebirds in a £600,000 deal during the summer of 2002, and has gone on to make 180 senior appearances.

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He is a big, solid defender who had the distinction of being named Cardiff's “Player-of-the-Year” in 2004-05.

In an effort to reduce their wage bill, Cardiff have made it known that Barker, right-back Rhys Weston and midfielder Jeff Whitley are all available for transfer.

Colchester boss Geraint Williams is eager to bolster his small squad before the end of the month. He has been tracking a host of players, since his appointment just a week before the start of the new season, although as yet he has made no signings.

Meanwhile, U's midfielder Johnnie Jackson is facing a race against time to be fit for tomorrow's daunting trip to West Brom.

Jackson suffered a leg injury towards the end of the first-half of last Saturday's 2-1 defeat by Barnsley. The former Tottenham 24-year-old tried to run it off at the start of the second period, but only lasted three minutes before being replaced by substitute Chris Iwelumo.

However, manager Geraint Williams is hopeful that summer signing Jackson will be fit enough to start his fourth successive game in the Championship, since his move from White Hart Lane.

“Johnnie (Jackson) has trained for the first time since the weekend. He suffered a spasm in his shin last Saturday,” revealed Williams.

“We are very hopeful that he will suffer no reaction and so will be available for the West Brom match.”

Baggies boss Bryan Robson is sweating on the fitness of star striker Nathan Ellington, who has limped out of the last couple of matches with a tweaked hamstring.

Front-runner Ellington, nicknamed “The Duke,” lasted only 26 minutes of last weekend's Championship fixture at Southampton, which ended in a goal-less draw. It was a recurrence of the injury that forced him to limp out of the previous game at Cardiff City, just before half-time.

Ellington, a £3m capture from Wigan Athletic last summer, managed just eight goals in the Premiership last season, which was a disappointing haul for such a highly-rated striker.

Robson is hoping that the 25-year-old returns for tomorrow's clash with Colchester, although he will not risk him if there is any doubt about his fitness.

“Nathan has come through training OK. We're just hoping that there is no reaction,” confirmed Robson yesterday.

“It's a very important 24 hours because he's had this stiffness in his hamstring. He felt he would be OK at the weekend, so we've given him a few days off and he's had treatment.

“But I can't play him if he's not 100% fit,” added Robson.

Tomorrow will be the U's first visit to the Hawthorns for almost 10 years. Their last trip ended in triumph, with a shock 3-1 victory to ensure a stunning 5-4 aggregate win in the League Cup on Tuesday, September 3, 1996.

Steve Wignall's side, trailing 3-2 from the first leg at Layer Road, turned the tables on their Division One hosts, thanks to a brace from Robbie Reinelt and a rare goal from Joe Dunne.

The win was all the more remarkable, when considered that assistant manager Steve Whitton played the whole of the second half in goal, due to keeper Garrett Caldwell's first-half leg injury. Whitton donned the goalkeeping gloves after playing up front for the first 45 minutes.

It will perhaps be just as big a surprise if the current U's manage to break their duck at West Brom tomorrow. Williams' men have lost their three matches, at the hands of Birmingham, Plymouth and Barnsley, since winning promotion last May.

In addition to Ellington, the Baggies have another potent striker in former Celtic star John Hartson. The Welsh international netted both goals in the opening day victory over Hull City.

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