Forgotten man's Championship hope

MARINO Keith, the forgotten man at Layer Road, is hoping that Colchester United will be a Championship club when he makes his long-awaited return to action next season.

By Carl Marston

MARINO Keith, the forgotten man at Layer Road, is hoping that Colchester United will be a Championship club when he makes his long-awaited return to action next season.

While the U's have been enjoying one of the most successful campaigns in the club's history, front-runner Keith has suffered a season of one nightmare after another.

The Scotsman has not played at all, due to long-term problems with his Achilles tendons. He ruled out any chance of making an appearance in the 2005-06 campaign several weeks ago, and is instead focusing on a return for the start of next season.

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But Keith has kept a close eye on the progress of his team-mates, and he believes that they can finish in the top two, and so avoid the lottery of the League One play-offs.

“I still go to as many games as I can, and I think the lads are fully capable of making the top two,” insisted Keith last night.

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“It would be nice for Colchester to be a Championship club when I return next season, though of course I have to focus on getting myself fit, and hoping that I can put my injury nightmares behind me.

“It's been so frustrating for me. I've tried to make several comebacks, but each time I've broken down when I've got to the running stage.

“I've been to see so many different specialists, and the club and physio Stuart (Ayles) have been very supportive. I've visited the specialists used by all the top clubs, which makes it very frustrating that they have been unable to help me.

“At least I now have a recovery plan in place for next season. It was almost a relief to finally give up on a return this season, because of all the knock-backs,” added Keith.

Goal-poacher Keith, who began his career in Scotland with Dundee United, Falkirk and Livingston, arrived at Colchester from Plymouth just over a year ago.

The 31-year-old scored four goals in 12 appearances for the U's at the back end of the campaign, and was looking forward to his first full season at Layer Road.

But he injured his Achilles tendons during the close season, while running on the roads, and has been unable to shake off the problem.

Keith would have been the likely partner for summer signing Chris Iwelumo, in an all-Scottish front-line. As it is, Iwelumo has had a whole host of strike-force partners, including Richard Garcia, Gareth Williams, Jamie Cureton, Greg Halford, Tony Thorpe and Billy Clarke.

“I actually did get back into training for one full week, back in October, but the accumulation of pain during the week forced me to have an injection,” continued Keith.

“It didn't really settle it down, but at least I've now been able to completely rest up, in addition to doing strengthening exercises on my calf and Achilles muscles.

“This has been my longest spell on the sidelines in my career,” added Keith

While Keith will be continuing his recuperation this weekend, the U's face two crunch fixtures in a three-day spell over Easter. It is a period that could determine whether they are top-two material, or just play-off candidates.

Phil Parkinson's men travel to mid-table Chesterfield tomorrow, fresh from a 2-0 win over visiting Hartlepool in midweek. Neil Danns' late brace propelled them to within one point of second-placed Brentford.

The U's will then entertain Tranmere Rovers in their penultimate home game, of the regular season, on Bank Holiday Monday (3pm kick-off).

The Layer Road ticket office will be open for business today, from 9am to 5pm. Tickets are selling well for the visit of Tranmere, while fans are also booking their tickets for the final game of the season, at Yeovil on May 6. Contact 0871 2262161 for further details.

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