Chris would just love to net at Chelsea

CHRIS Iwelumo is one of the few Colchester United players who have had previous experience of playing on the big stage. There will be no last minute nerves for him at Chelsea on Sunday.

By Carl Marston

CHRIS Iwelumo is one of the few Colchester United players who have had previous experience of playing on the big stage. There will be no last minute nerves for him at Chelsea on Sunday.

Leading marksman Iwelumo would love to add to his tally of 16 goals for the season, by scoring at Stamford Bridge, the home of the Premiership champions.

That would be a dream come true for Iwelumo, as it would be for most players in the land. Yet the big Scotsman is also a realist.

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“We may have a similar record to Chelsea, with only a couple of defeats in the last 20-odd matches, but they play at a different level,” admitted Iwelumo at yesterday's Press conference, looking ahead to Sunday's FA Cup fifth round tie (4pm kick-off) in west London.

“The gulf between the two clubs is massive. Of course we would love to get something out of the game, but everyone is expecting just one result.

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“We must make sure that we enjoy the day, but also that we don't let ourselves down. Most of the lads are very young and inexperienced. There's just a few of us older ones, like me and Brownie (Wayne Brown), who have been there, and done that. I've played against Chelsea before, while at Stoke City. My main memory of that game was that we managed to hold on, against a very strong team, for about 50 minutes.

“Then Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink scored, and it was effectively game over,” recalled Iwelumo.

U's hit-man Iwelumo was referring to Stoke's FA Cup fifth round tie at home to Chelsea from three years ago, staged at the Britannia Stadium on Sunday, February 16, 2003 (another 4pm kick-off for television purposes).

Hasselbaink netted after 52 minutes, with Jesper Gronkjaer sealing a 2-0 win with a second on 76 minutes. Iwelumo played up front alongside Chris Greenacre, and Stoke certainly gave their illustrious hosts a tough game, in front of a crowd of 26,615.

Chelsea have, of course, stepped up to another level since that particular contest. Jose Mourinho's men are poised to retain their Premiership title, and they also have genuine hopes of winning the European Champions League.

Several of the team from three years ago are still key members of the Chelsea squad, including keeper Carlo Cudicini, defenders John Terry, Robert Huth and Willam Gallas, midfielder Frank Lampard and striker Eidur Gudjohnsen.

Others have moved on, like Hasselbaink, Emmauel Petit, Graeme Le Saux and Mario Melchiot.

Whatever team Mourinho selects for this Sunday, Iwelumo and the rest of the U's squad will have no problem recognising their individual opponents.

“We see them all the time on the TV. It's not like we're up against players from Walsall (last Tuesday evening) or other teams in our division, whom we only see on the pitch,” explained Iwelumo. I don't know what team they will put out, and even if they are without one or two regulars, you just have to think about the players coming in! All we can do is focus on our game, and hope for a bit of lady luck.

“We've had a good season. It took us a little time to get going, but we now have the perfect balance in the team, and the atmosphere around the place is great. We have not been allowed to talk about the Chelsea game until now, which is fair enough because the manager wanted us to concentrate on the other games in the league.

“The players have just whispered about it, but now it's a pleasant distraction with all the press interest and the hype surrounding Sunday's game.

“The media attention is part and parcel of football. It's something that some of the younger lads have not experienced before. We have to take it on the chin.

“We have to appreciate that we are playing at Chelsea, the English champions. It's a good chance to show what we can do, and for some of the lads to prove that they could play at a higher level,” concluded Iwelumo.

n Colchester United striker Marino Keith will not play at all this season.

Former Plymouth front-runner Keith suffered an Achilles tendon injury during pre-season training last summer, and has not kicked a ball in anger since.

The Scotsman has had treatment and advice from numerous specialists, and an orthopaedic surgeon, but has not made the progress anticipated. He will now concentrate on being fit for the start of the 2006-07 campaign.

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