Five more wins and U's are safe
COLCHESTER United might be in the play-off zone but players and management team alike remain focused on one main aim - to avoid relegation!For a club to still consider the threat of relegation, when they have just risen into the top-six at the mid-point of a season, may smack of extreme pessimism.
By Carl Marston
COLCHESTER United might be in the play-off zone but players and management team alike remain focused on one main aim - to avoid relegation!
For a club to still consider the threat of relegation, when they have just risen into the top-six at the mid-point of a season, may smack of extreme pessimism.
But the U's, initially dismissed by many as cannon fodder for the rest of the Championship, are keeping their feet firmly on the ground.
They are not going to rest easy until they have ensured their survival in what is their first-ever campaign in the second tier of the Football League.
So what is the safety barrier? How many points do Geraint Williams' men need before they can consider themselves to be safe from relegation?
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Looking back over the records of the last five years, I would suggest that the magic figure is 52. Reach that landmark and the U's should still be a Championship club when their new stadium is due to be open for business during the spring of 2008.
United have already accumulated an impressive 37 points from their first 23 league games of the season, which means they require just another 15 points to be assured of avoiding relegation. That equates to just five wins - they managed 11 during the first half of the campaign.
Last season, anything in excess of 42 points would have been sufficient to stay in the Championship. Crewe were the third team to go down, with 42 points.
But that was an unusual year. In 2005, Gillingham were relegated to League One, despite collecting 50 points, and the year before Walsall were relegated after finishing on 51 points.
The fact that no one or two teams are running away with the division this term, unlike Reading and Sheffield United last season, implies that there will be more points on offer for the rest of the teams, hence a higher margin of safety.
There was certainly no bravado in the U's camp following last Saturday's 3-0 defeat of Stoke City, even though they had just chalked up their ninth home win on the bounce to move into sixth in the Championship.
Manager Geraint Williams said: “We're delighted to now be on 37 points but we're not getting carried away. We'll just have to see where we finish at the end of the season.
“There will come a time when survival is not enough for us, but at the moment we're just trying to win every game.”
Leading scorer Jamie Cureton netted a first-half brace against Stoke, to boost his tally for the season to 12 goals. He remarked: “There's no reason why we can't finish in the play-offs, although we have other things to achieve first.
“It's a great feeling to be sixth in the table, but the job is not done yet. We want to get to more than 50 points as quickly as possible, and then see what we can achieve.”
The U's begin their second-half of the season at Preston this Saturday. Paul Simpson's men are one of the favourites for promotion, or at least a play-off berth. They beat Plymouth 3-0 at Deepdale last weekend to move back up to third in the table.
It will be a stern test for United, but not an impossible one. They drew 0-0 at then-leaders Cardiff at the start of the month, and then comfortably defeated Crystal Palace 3-1 at Selhurst Park.
If they can force a result at a place like Preston, then it won't be long before all talk of staving off relegation will be forgotten.
And to finish on a positive note - the quicker the U's reach 52 points, the quicker they can start thinking about the play-offs!