Countdown continues for Colchester

THE countdown has begun to the end of the season, and Colchester United have a fighting chance of gate-crashing the play-offs.The U's have not been in the top six since the middle of January, and have not been higher than sixth spot all season, but the unbelievable could still happen.

By Carl Marston

THE countdown has begun to the end of the season, and Colchester United have a fighting chance of gate-crashing the play-offs.

The U's have not been in the top six since the middle of January, and have not been higher than sixth spot all season, but the unbelievable could still happen.

A draw at promotion rivals Stoke City would ensure that the U's are still in the hunt for a play-berth, going into their final match at home to Crystal Palace the following Sunday - a fixture that is already a sell-out.


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However, a point at the Britannia Stadium would only give them a slim chance of success, because they would then be relying on several other results, not just one, to go their way on the final weekend.

In general, the U's promotion rivals, and the U's themselves, have tougher games this weekend, than on May 6. Seven teams are fighting for the three remaining play-off spots, and five of the seven are away from home.

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Sheffield Wednesday are the real outsiders, although they have come from nowhere to mount a late challenge. Brian Laws' men have to win at league leaders Birmingham City tomorrow, and that might prove beyond them.

West Brom, Southampton, Preston and, of course, the U's are all on the road, leaving just Stoke and sixth-placed Wolves at home.

The U's have taken four points off East Anglian rivals Norwich City this season, including a 3-0 home win over the Canaries a month ago. Now The U's will be hoping that Peter Grant's side do them a favour, by at least holding if not beating visiting Southampton.

Preston's form has been patchy of late, and they will not relish the long journey to Devon to take on Plymouth. As United can vouch (3-0 defeat in February), the Pilgrims are much tougher opponents at Home Park.

And West Brom are another club who might still fall at the final hurdle. Tony Mowbray's Baggies outfit squandered a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2 at Burnley on Monday night, and hosts Coventry City will want to claim the honours in a Midlands derby.

QPR manager John Gregory signed a new deal this week, as a reward for keeping the west Londoners in the Championship, and they could have a big say in the play-off picture.

The U's, and others, will be hoping that QPR can spring a surprise at Wolves tomorrow, and then beat Stoke at Loftus Road on the final day.

Four points out of six would leave the U's on 73 points, but that would probably not be enough. However, they would be unlucky not to finish in the top six with 75 points.

The mere fact that Colchester fans can discuss these possibilities, with their team still genuine play-off candidates, is an amazing story on its own. Roll on Stoke!

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