Frustrating time for Keith

ALL talk at Layer Road has centred around strikers this week, including old ones, new ones and injured ones.Marino Keith, the forgotten man, has not played this season due to an Achilles tendon injury, and there is still very little light at the end of the tunnel for him.

By Carl Marston

ALL talk at Layer Road has centred around strikers this week, including old ones, new ones and injured ones.

Marino Keith, the forgotten man, has not played this season due to an Achilles tendon injury, and there is still very little light at the end of the tunnel for him.

Fellow strikers Richard Garcia and Chris Iwelumo are both nursing short-term injuries of their own and face a race against time to be fit for tomorrow's trip to Walsall.

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Meanwhile, new recruit Tony Thorpe is waiting in the wings, having signed a contract until the end of the season on Tuesday. Thorpe has an outside chance of being named in this weekend's squad.

Successful Colchester United boss Phil Parkinson has high hopes that both leading scorer Iwelumo and talented attacker Garcia will come through fitness tests this morning, after undergoing light training sessions yesterday.

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Yet there is no prospect of fellow marksman Keith returning to the action in the foreseeable future.

Parkinson revealed last night: “I can't hide the fact that Marino (Keith) has not been making great progress. He hasn't played all season, and though he's not quite back to square one, he still has the same Achilles problem.

“It's been proving so frustrating. Marino has had the same type of injury as Thierry Henry. He's been to the same specialist, and followed the same advice, but whereas Henry is back playing for Arsenal, Marino has not got much better.

“Achilles tendon injuries can be notoriously difficult to shrug off, and Marino is a tough lad who just gets on with it, until the pain becomes too much.

“However, I wouldn't call this a career-threatening injury. It's just come to a point where Marino has got to give it a go again.

“It will be a long haul for him. He only started running again for the first time on Wednesday and we will have to wait and see how the Achilles reacts.

“He's a tremendous lad, and I'm definitely expecting him to play some part in this season. I'll be disappointed if a player of Marino's calibre ends up playing no part in the campaign. He has terrific spirit, and he remains a vital player for this club,” added Parkinson.

Scotsman Keith, who made the move down to England in 2001 to play for Plymouth, following spells with Dundee United, Falkirk and Livingston, signed for Colchester just under a year ago.

The 31-year-old netted three goals in a run of three games to help lift the U's well clear of the relegation zone at the end of March. He was looking forward to making a big impact during his first full season at Layer Road, only to injure his Achilles tendon during pre-season training. It has been a struggle ever since.

By contrast, summer signing and fellow Scotsman Iwelumo has started every league game for the U's this season, contributing 13 goals.

Iwelumo has had his share of different strike-force partners, including loanee Jamie Cureton (now back at Swindon), Greg Halford, Gareth Williams and Garcia. He has even ploughed a lone furrow up front at times this term.

Parkinson is keeping his fingers crossed that both Iwelumo and Garcia are fit for tomorrow's trip to the Bescot Stadium.

“Chris (Iwelumo) has been nursing some tendinitis in his knee this week. It's just been a matter of resting it,” continued Parkinson.

“Richard (Garcia) had a problem with a nerve at the top of his hamstring at Sheffield United. It's not too bad. We are now waiting to see how both players react after a light training session.

“Fortunately, I'm not short of other options in attack. Gareth Williams got us the winner last weekend, while Greg (Halford) has played up front for us in the past, as has Karl Duguid. There's also Jamie Guy, and even Mark Yeates has played up front in his career.”

The U's are currently on a blistering run of 13 wins from their last 15 games, a terrific spell that has seen them surge into the League One play-off zone, as well as making further progress in both the FA Cup and LDV Vans Trophy.

Goals from Neil Danns and Williams secured an eye-catching 2-1 win at Championship promotion favourites Sheffield United, which has since been rewarded with a fourth-round home tie against fellow Championship opponents Derby County.

That fixture, to be played on Saturday, January 28, has been declared all-ticket. More than 1,200 tickets have already been snapped up over the last couple of days.

Centre-half Liam Chilvers, who served a one-match suspension at Bramall Lane, returns to the squad tomorrow. However, his deputy Pat Baldwin performed well against the Blades and will be hoping to retain his place.

Experienced striker Thorpe, who was released by Swindon before the turn of the year, is looking to resurrect his career with the U's.

The ex-Luton, Fulham, Bristol City and QPR marksman warmed up with the only goal of the game for Colchester Reserves in a friendly fixture against Dagenham & Redbridge on Tuesday afternoon.

Parkinson explained: “Tony has a lot of work to do to get match-fit. But he has a chance of being in this weekend's squad.”

Tomorrow's hosts Walsall are squatting in mid-table, nine points behind the U's in 13th position. But Paul Merson's men have only suffered two league defeats at home all season.

Former U's star Mark Kinsella is a player-coach with the Saddlers. However, they lost their star striker Matty Fryatt to Leicester City for an undisclosed fee this month.

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