Form teams at Layer Road tomorrow

TWO of the in-form teams in the Championship come face to face at Layer Road tomorrow.Colchester United have been surprising a succession of opponents this season, especially at home, where they have chalked up eight victories on the bounce.

By Carl Marston

TWO of the in-form teams in the Championship come face to face at Layer Road tomorrow.

Colchester United have been surprising a succession of opponents this season, especially at home, where they have chalked up eight victories on the bounce.

But the next visitors, Stoke City, could prove the most awkward of them all. The Potteries club are unbeaten in seven matches, winning six of them and drawing the other.


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City have beaten QPR (1-0), Cardiff (3-0), West Brom (1-0) and Coventry (1-0) at the Britannia Stadium, and chalked up away victories at Hull (2-0) and Crystal Palace (1-0). They also drew 0-0 at Coventry's Ricoh Stadium at the start of this month.

Stoke boss Tony Pulis was unlucky to miss out on the Championship manager-of-the-month award for November. He was pipped by Billy Davies, whose Derby side won all six of their games last month.

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U's boss Geraint Williams confirmed: “We are expecting a very hard game, because of Stoke's superb recent record. They have won six and drawn one of their last seven fixtures, and they have several good loan signings from the Premiership.

“However, we're going well ourselves, so it will be a case of two in-form teams meeting. It should be a great encounter,” added Williams.

With the exception of long-term casualty Marino Keith, who is hoping to resume training again in the new year, the U's have no injury concerns, or looming suspensions, which is a major plus. In fact, competition for places in the starting XI is only matched by a made scramble for places on the substitutes' bench. West Ham trainee Hogan Ephraim did not even make the final 16 for last weekend's 3-1 victory at Crystal Palace.That also applied to defenders John White and Garry Richards.

Richard Garcia returned to the squad, after an eight-game absence with an ankle injury, to inspire a marvellous last half-hour for the U's at Selhurst Park. The Australian scored a cracking goal, and also won the last-minute penalty that sealed a second away win of the season for the Essex club.

Garcia will therefore be pushing for a start tomorrow, as will fellow winger Kevin McLeod, who has not started either of the last two games at Cardiff or Palace. The former Swansea 26-year-old's best displays have been at home, so he is another useful weapon for manager Williams.

The Welshman has some tough decisions to make, and that includes in goal - first choice keeper Aidan Davison is available again, after a chest injury, although his understudy, Dean Gerken, has impressed in the last two matches.

Williams spoke to youth team manager Joe Dunne yesterday, following the U's Youths disappointing performance at Aston Villa on Wednesday night. The U's failed to do themselves justice in a 3-1 defeat at Villa Park, in an FA Youth Cup third-round tie.

“The lads are a little bit disappointed with the way things went,” admitted Williams. “However, I'm sure that they will learn from the experience. It was only a one-off game. They are top of their league, so they're doing well,”.

carl.marston@eadt.co.uk

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