Ex-skipper backing U's

FORMER Colchester United skipper Richard Wilkins, who played a key role in the U's eight-game winning streak of 1987, believes that the current team have the potential to win promotion.

By Carl Marston

FORMER Colchester United skipper Richard Wilkins, who played a key role in the U's eight-game winning streak of 1987, believes that the current team have the potential to win promotion.

Wilkins netted five goals during the U's fantastic run of 18 years ago, operating as a striker during Mike Walker's successful era, which came to a sudden and dramatic end midway through that winning sequence.

Current Bury Town boss Wilkins recalls that stormy time at Layer Road, prompted by Walker's sudden departure and the arrival of an untried Roger Brown.

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The U's looked poised for promotion at the turn of the year, only to nose-dive in spectacular style down the old Division Four to eventually finish in mid-table.

But Wilkins is confident that Phil Parkinson's current team can sustain a promotion push this term, as long as they can bounce back when their current winning run finally comes to an end.

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United will be gunning for a record nine victories on the trot at league leaders Swansea City tomorrow, having equalled the eight-game streak at Hartlepool with a 1-0 win on Tuesday night.

“It's all about how they respond, when the run finally comes to an end,” warned Wilkins last night.

“They are going really well and I think they've got a great chance of reaching the play-offs.

“Jamie Cureton was around when I was still playing and he's always scored goals. He is a natural goal poacher.

“Now that the team has climbed up into the top six, the pressure will be on them to stay there. But I think that they are up to the challenge this season,” added Wilkins.

Former U's stalwart Wilkins enjoyed two long spells at Layer Road. Arriving on a free transfer from Haverhill Rovers in 1986, he played 152 league games, including those eight wins on the bounce, before moving on to Cambridge United and Hereford.

But he was back as an inspirational skipper and competitive midfielder to mastermind Colchester's successful promotion play-off bid of 1997-98. In all, he made 324 senior appearances in a U's shirt.

Since that successful promotion campaign, the U's have consolidated themselves as a League One (old Division Two) club. But this year they have already gone a step further, by becoming genuine promotion candidates.

It is all a far cry from the antics of 1987, when Wilkins came within a whisker of scoring what would have been the only hat-trick of his career.

“It was a weird time. Mike Walker's departure puzzled everyone and, in the end, it started to affect us as a team,” recalled Wilkins, who celebrated his 40th birthday this year.

“The club introduced a supporters' membership scheme, which didn't really work, and we soon went from a top-of-the-table team to a struggling one.

“But we had some good wins during our eight-game run, especially away from home. I scored two goals in the 4-1 win at Rochdale, scoring one with my right foot and one with my left.

“In fact, I should have got a hat-trick because I also missed a sitter. That was my best opportunity to score a hat-trick in my career. I never got the chance again.

“I was playing up front with Dale Tempest. We had a good defence, and players of the calibre of Nick Chatterton and Paul Hinshelwood were playing their best football for Colchester at that time.

“We ended up blowing it, but I'm confident that this current team will keep it going. The run will eventually come to an end but the important thing is to not let all that hard work go to nothing, by then going four or five games without a win,” concluded Wilkins.

n Winger Dean Howell, who was released from his Colchester United contract last week, is training with his old club Halifax Town.

Howell only started one game for the U's, in the 3-1 away defeat at Southend, following his move to Layer Road last summer on a six-month contract. He was also troubled by injury during his short stay with the Essex club.

Halifax manager Chris Wilder revealed: “Dean (Howell) has had an operation and asked if he could come down to training and keep himself fit.

“I have no problem with him. He wanted to leave in the first place to play in the Football League.”

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